VFL bound: NSW/ACT umpires get the call up

By Josh Dunstall

Field Umpires, Bradley Stewart (AFL Sydney, pictured right) and Flynn Kelly (AFL Canberra, pictured left), have been officially appointed to the 2024 Victorian Football League field umpire list.

On the eve of the Smithy’s VFL first round State League and Talent Pathways Umpire Head Coach, Hayden Kennedy, confirmed that these two umpires would be joining list.

Both umpires expressed excitement at getting to this point of their umpiring career.

“Working for years just to get here and now realising that you are actually on the list and a part of the squad now, so it’s sort of a relief to finally make it,” Stewart said.

“Primarily excitement about the opportunity after all of the hard work I have put in over quite a few years,” Kelly said.

Bradley Stewart began umpiring AFL Sydney Juniors in 2011 (13 years ago!). It’s been a long and steady rise which has involved two AFL Sydney Men’s Premier Division grand finals, the perfect stepping stone to the VFL.

“I think the main change was realising how far you can actually go with umpiring,” Stewart said. “Back in 2011, I had no clue what this world involved. Back then when I was a kid, I liked to run and umpiring just meant more running really, so that’s how I got into it.”

Stewart credited the NextGen program and being assured of the talent pathway for his umpiring progression.

“The whole NextGen program and the actual pathway got laid out in front of me made me think, ‘I can actually progress forward with this, there’s more to this than just doing a game on a Sunday’,” Stewart said.

Flynn Kelly’s journey to the VFL was similar to Stewart’s, although he began in 2015 officiating AFL Canberra Juniors.

“I stopped playing at the end of 2016 which opened up more opportunities to do older age groups in the juniors and then move into senior football. That was the big one early on,” said Kelly.

Nine years later, he has two AFL Canberra First Grade Men’s grand finals to his name as well as the 2022 Rusty Taylor scholarship, for an umpire who shows the potential to reach a higher level of football.

Both Stewart and Kelly gave their thanks and praise to former and current VFL listed umpires from NSW/ACT, who have guided them on the path to a listed position on the list.

“I’ve been taking in all of the experience I can from all of the other people around, like Nipper (Samuel Nippress) the last few years and Sarge (Nicholas McGinness) the year before that,” Kelly said.

“To see all of the extra work that Chris (Chris Brackenrig), Joey (Joseph O’Brien) and even Dean (Dean Garroway) put into all of the coaching and all of the stuff behind the scenes,” Stewart said.

When looking ahead to the 2024 campaign, they both are keen to umpire as many games as possible.

“Doing as many games as possible,” said Kelly when asked about his focus for the 2024 VFL season.

“The main goal is to keep consistent, stay consistent with as many games as possible,” said Stewart.

Congratulations to both Flynn and Bradley on this huge achievement and we look forward to seeing where your umpiring careers take you going forward.