Marist College graduate Michael Barlow waited nervously for his phone to ring after performing his duties as a boundary umpire during Melbourne's thumping preliminary final win over Geelong.
He knew a phone call from AFL head boundary umpire coach Darren Wilson was on its way, delivering the verdict on whether or not he'd made the cut for Saturday's decider between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs.
"It's obviously a bit of a stressful moment when you see the name pop up on your phone but fortunately enough for me it was good news that I got the tick to have a run on the last game of the year," Barlow said.
Saturday's grand final at Optus Stadium in Perth will be Barlow's 95th game this season away from home, as part of a band of traveling umpires who have been on the road with the AFL throughout 2021 as the league navigated the coronavirus pandemic.
"A number of my colleagues throughout the year have had similar experiences, spending time on the road at short notice," Barlow said.
"I then spent some time in Melbourne and it would have been a Wednesday night and at about 10:30, got another phone call saying that we need you to be leaving for the airport at 7 the next morning.
"The collective group, field, boundary and goal have just been phenomenal in some of the sacrifices that they've made to keep the game going.
"I'm obviously lucky enough as well as the colleagues that will represent our group on Saturday ... considering guys are juggling work commitments, family commitments, pregnant partners and all the rest, young children, there's been a lot of phenomenal stories and I think they all just speak to the dedication and commitment of the umpiring group."
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Barlow's unwavering commitment to the game has paid off.
The 24-year-old is on the verge of his biggest moment as a boundary umpire, and will have one of the best seats in the house as Melbourne aims to snap a 57-year premiership drought.
"There's a lot of out of the ordinary aspects to it in terms of the build-up, I suppose the entertainment, the anthems, but I think the game itself there's two really competitive teams, they've probably been the two most consistent teams throughout the year and as we saw on the prelim final weekend, put in some really dominant performances," Barlow said.
"From that point of view, I'll certainly be hoping it's a good game and that the whole football experience is something I'll hopefully be able to remember forever.
"There's always nerves, but I think the main emotion is probably I'm just really proud.
"I've put in a significant amount of work to get to this point and there's 43 boundary umpires that all are really good at what they do, made significant sacrifices, particularly in the last couple of years.
"To be able to represent the AFL boundary umpiring team, is something that I'll be really proud of, really humbled and definitely not something I'll take for granted."
AFL Canberra goal umpire Colin Larter, who spent his earlier years in the AFL, said Barlow had earned his moment on the biggest stage of all.
"The thing I've enjoyed most throughout my time is watching other people I've been involved with move forward in their own umpiring careers, particularly those who have reached the highest level." Larter said.
"He [Barlow] had a perfect action and he was just a little short arse. We all knew once he started to grow that he was going to be a great umpire."
There's always nerves, but the main emotion is I'm just really proud.Boundary umpire Michael Barlow