Doctors said Mitch should avoid sport. Now, he’s aiming for an AFL umpiring career

Cheyne Mason pictured standing next to Mitchell Harwood.

It might be footy’s least-appreciated skill, the boundary throw-in.

Unlike the centre bounce, we rarely ponder its degree of difficulty or sense of occasion.

There is no high-stakes prestige, like there is in rugby’s lineout.

Cheyne Mason has practised and coached this minor art form since 1998.

“It has to be like a loop,” said the Tasmanian Football Umpires Association (TFUA) stalwart.

“It’s got to go up really high, then come down on top of the rucks.”

The misconception is that it is all in the arm.

“It’s really about a technique that is built like a pendulum,” Mason said.

“You start really high above your head, then you go back in behind your knees, and all the force comes out of your legs.

“A lot of people think it’s driven by the arm but it’s not. You’re pushing off with your legs and the power comes through there.”

Add the senior boundary umpire’s average running workload of 20 kilometres’ worth of intermittent sprinting per game, the harshness of Tasmanian winters — wind resistance and slippery footballs are the natural enemies of the boundary umpire — plus the threat of verbal abuse, and it is easy to see why the TFUA is always desperate for new umpires.

It is also easy to see why recruits like Mitchell Harwood are so treasured.

When Mason began coaching the 19-year-old this year, the first thing that struck him was Harwood’s enthusiasm.

The least-enticing appointments for veterans are school games: Harwood volunteered to run the boundary in all of them, if required.

Better still, Harwood took every piece of coaching advice imparted on him and immediately applied it in games.

“Everything you throw at him, he takes in, and the next week you see it play out on the field,” Mason said.

“He’s 100 per cent into umpiring.”

Cheyne Mason pictured standing next to Mitchell Harwood.
Cheyne Mason (left) has been one of Mitchell Harwood’s biggest supporters as the 19-year-old climbs the umpiring ranks.(Supplied)

A few weeks ago, Mason granted Harwood his first senior game.

TFUA administrator Lynette Genders thought Harwood’s story was worth sharing on Facebook.

Her post, to Harwood’s delight, drew comments of praise from former AFL coach Rodney Eade and Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff.

Mason, on the other hand, was stunned by the information within it: things Harwood had never even mentioned in their many coaching sessions and conversations throughout the season. It read:

“Tonight we would like [to] highlight one of our TFUA Boundary Umpires, Mitchell Harwood. Prior to birth, Mitchell suffered a stroke, resulting in life-long brain damage. In addition to this, Mitchell has cerebral palsy and autism. Suffering from a disability can put barriers up for people wanting to participate in sport.

“Mitchell joined the TFUA in 2021 and had a great first season. He came back this year and has worked hard on his fitness and today debuted in his first senior game. Mitchell is beyond proud of his achievement and it just goes to show that you can achieve anything with dedication, commitment and support.

“The TFUA is proud to support Mitchell to achieve his dream. We are a very inclusive group welcoming anyone [who] wants to have a go.”

‘If it came to sport, that was easy for me’

Depending on how things pan out in the Oatlands District Football Association preliminary finals this weekend, Harwood will be in line for selection in the country league’s senior grand final to follow.

Author: Ivan Robinson