CASEY O’Keefe describes his umpiring group as a “mini football club”.
The Warrnambool and District Football Umpires Association member — preparing to officiate his 500th game — likens the two social environments.
He loves the camaraderie the association provides and the chance to catch up for a beer with his mates after they’ve umpired at various Hampden and Warrnambool and District league games each weekend.
O’Keefe, 40, will celebrate his milestone at Friendly Societies’ Park on Saturday.
The South Warrnambool-Koroit senior fixture will be his 496th as a field umpire, with two boundary and two goals bringing up the total.
“I am umpiring with one of my best mates, Jamie Lake, on the weekend which will make the milestone better,” O’Keefe said. He joined the umpiring ranks in his 20s in a bid to get fit.
He now runs up to six times a week on top of his two nights of umpiring training and weekly games.
“In the two-umpire system you can do up to 15 kilometres but with three you might only do eight kilometres but you do more sprinting,” he said.
His umpiring journey has included 10 senior grand finals — five Hampden league and five Warrnambool and District league deciders.
He was involved in the Australian Country Football Championships in 2010 in Canberra which he remembers as “a bit of a buzz”.
On top of those honours, O’Keefe been recognised individually.
The father of two won the Victorian Country Football League umpire of the year award in 2010 and last year picked up his first Hampden league umpire of the year honour, as voted by the senior coaches.
O’Keefe spends his time between Hampden and Warrnambool and District senior matches.
“We get rotated in and out,” he said.
“They have to give the young guys a chance to umpire the higher league.”
He wants to keep umpiring as long as possible but understands the need for the next generation to filter through the ranks and help boost numbers.
“We’re all getting a bit long in the tooth so we need young ones,” he said.
O’Keefe, who works at Warrnambool Cheese and Butter, said he was yet to umpire his eldest son Ethan.
Ethan, an older brother to Archie, 4, plays football for Timboon Demons’ under 14½.
“I’m not sure what he thinks of the old man umpiring,” O’Keefe joked.