From fish to footy as ANU meets AFL

9 April 2014

The AFL's newest goal umpire doubles as an ANU student - and she's only the third woman to take on the challenge of umpiring.

Rose O'Dea, in her honours year of a Bachelor of Science (Advanced) majoring in biology with minors in maths, evolution and ecology, probably isn't the picture of a typical umpire. And she is far from the image of the big, burly men that typically roam the fields.

You can normally find Rose in the lab, working on the maternal effects on offspring size in mosquitofish. According to her, though, AFL has always been in her blood.

"My dad's side of the family is from South Australia, so even though I was born in Canberra I grew up loving AFL, going to lots of games in Sydney," she said.

"Dad was boundary umpiring local footy, and when I was old enough he took me along to pre-season training to sign up as a goal umpire.

"I was a bit reluctant at first because it was an intimidating environment for a small, shy, 14 year-old girl, but I liked being involved in a game I'd always watched from the sidelines, and the satisfaction that comes with honing a skill.

"Umpiring's a good way to keep fit, earn a bit of money, and by pushing you out of your comfort zone I think it teaches you skills you can apply to life more broadly.

"With good support around me I started umpiring in U18s, and then worked my way up the grades to where I am now."

So how does Rose feel about being the third female ever to officiate in the AFL?

"I'm the third woman to make the AFL, but it's the first time there have been two women on the list simultaneously, which I think is important," she said.

"I like to think that it won't be too long before the AFL sees its fourth and fifth female umpires, and so on, until the point where it has become so unremarkable that people don't bother to keep count."

Rose's first official AFL match was the rain-drenched Greater Western Sydney clash with Melbourne.

"I expected to be nervous, which I was, and it took a little while to settle in because it was a low-scoring game in wet weather.

"After the match I had a similar feeling to the hour after a piano exam: a weird mixture of happiness and relief that you got through it okay, combined with an unhelpful level self-criticism and a come down from the emotion leading up to the event.

"But there were some nice moments when it was just plain cool to be umpiring an AFL match."

Rose will wave the flags in her second match at home in Canberra for the clash between Greater Western Sydney and the Western Bulldogs.

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