NSW/ACT umpires selected for the Grand Final

Two NSW/ACT umpires will officiate the 2023 Toyota AFL Grand Final. Angus McKenzie-Wills (back left) and Michael Barlow (front left). Photo: AFL Photos


By Tilly Werner


NSW will be represented on the MCG turf this Saturday by two of the state’s best umpires, Michael Barlow and Angus Mckenzie-Wills.  

With no NSW or ACT players lining up for Collingwood or Brisbane, Barlow (second Grand Final) on the boundary and McKenzie-Wills in goals will wear the state badge of honour as two of the 10 umpires who will officiate the 2023 AFL Grand Final. 

“I’m still on cloud nine, it’s still sinking in but now I’m down in Melbourne it’s more real. It’s very exciting,” McKenzie-Wills said. 

Saturday will be his first grand final, stirring memories of the initial time he picked up the flags over thirteen years ago in Sydney.   

“I played as a junior and they were looking for field umpires so I did a little bit of field umpiring but come junior finals time they were looking for goal umpiring so I tried that and enjoyed it more than I expected I would.” 

It sparked what’s become a decade-long love for the Manly Bombers junior, one which saw him eventually choose umpiring over playing. 

“You start to do a few more seniors’ games and you get notice and then it all snowballed from there. I kept playing and umpiring but I eventually had to make a decision and I gave up playing when I was under 18s which was 13 years ago now.” 


Eyes on the ball

While there were plenty of moments which could have deterred his dream, McKenzie-Wills believes the noise from over the boundary line from AFL Sydney matches has him well prepared to keep a focused head against the volume of the 100,000 spectators expected at the MCG this weekend. 

“You are so focused on what you are doing you get used to it, it’s a bit normalised and you can block it out,” he said.

“At the same time, there’s probably never been more scrutiny on goal umpiring at the moment so there’s certainly a lot of pressure.”  

That pressure became immediately apparent when Barlow and McKenzie-Wills stepped off the plane on Wednesday morning.  

“We’re pretty lucky in Sydney, it’s a bit more sheltered whereas Melbourne is a fishbowl and you can’t really escape it at the best of times let alone Grand Final week,” McKenzie-Wills said.  

“You’ve got to embrace a week like this and as soon as I landed you could see people in the airport with their Brisbane scarves on so it’s very real now but I will try and keep the next few days as normal as possible, but you have to embrace this at the same time, it’s incredible.” 


Angus McKenzie-Wills (right) and Adam Wojcik are the 2023 Toyota AFL Grand Final goal umpires.


Thanking a broad spectrum of umpires

AFL’s EGM of Football, Laura Kane, announced the panel and thanked umpires around the country for their contribution this season season.  

“I want to thank all umpires from community to the elite, all those who have picked up a whistle or picked up a pair of flags this year,” Kane said. 

“This year’s panel is rich with experience, it features 3,595 games of experience, that includes 343 finals and 46 AFL Grand Finals.  

“The game literally doesn’t go on without you.” 


Outstanding performances rewarded

Barlow and McKenzie-Wills’ selection is the result of a lengthy, competitive process to identify the year’s best performers but also considers the contribution of umpires across their careers. 

“We go through a really long process,” Kane said.  

“It’s a year-long campaign but it’s also a career in its totality to learn the game, to understand the game and to officiate at this level doesn’t just take one or two weeks previously and the selection is based off this body of work.” 

Matt Stevic will umpire a record 10th straight Grand Final and 11th in total.  

“It’s crazy – I had a dream as a kid to umpire one AFL game and I’m just incredibly proud,” Stevic said.  

McKenzie-Wills hopes that his appointment will hope inspire more people and junior players, in particular, to pick up the whistle or flags in NSW.  

“As someone who was playing and umpiring in Sydney as a junior I’d never thought I would be umping an AFL Grand Final but there is certainly a pathway there and it’s a growing one in Sydney with the Giants and Swans doing well but the road to the ‘G is there for umpires as well,” he says. 

“Stick at it!” 


Canberra-born Michael Barlow (third from the left) will boundary umpire his second AFL Grand Final this weekend, following his 2021 appearance in Perth. Read about his umpiring journey here.