Umpires coach Kennedy leaves AFL suddenly

AFL umpires coach Hayden Kennedy has resigned, effective immediately.

Kennedy, who has been in the role since 2013, told the umpires at training on Tuesday night that he would not be continuing in the role.

It’s unclear exactly what has prompted Kennedy, one of the most experienced and highly regarded officiators the game has seen, to suddenly resign only weeks into the season.

AFL umpires coach Hayden Kennedy.Credit:Getty Images

Multiple football sources have indicated there has been growing friction between senior umpires and league football boss Steve Hocking.

Focus on umpires has increased in recent seasons. In early 2019, senior umpire Shaun Ryan felt compelled to go on 3AW after several umpires felt let down by the AFL for not supporting them after a controversial finish to the Anzac Day clash.

Collingwood won that game by four points after a series of non-decisions went against Essendon late in the game.

Last year, Hocking and the AFL issued a memo to umpires midway through the season, requesting a tighter application of the holding the ball rule, relating to players making a genuine attempt to dispose of the ball.

Hocking and the AFL have spent recent seasons tweaking the interpretation of certain rules to open the game up and reduce congestion, which they had hoped would ultimately lead to higher scoring.

Things changed even more drastically this year when the league introduced the controversial “stand” rule, whereby players on the mark weren’t allowed to move once advised by the umpire.

Senior umpires have since raised concerns with how difficult and complex their matchday roles have become with the changes in interpretation to existing rules and the introduction of new ones.

There have also been issues with the league’s ARC system. While the ARC is publicly used for score reviews, it is also used as a tool to help with umpire coaching.

The intense analysis of umpires, their performance and their decision making via the ARC system has caused divisions among some umpires.

The Age is not suggesting there has been a falling out between Kennedy and the AFL. Umpiring sources have said his resignation is due to many reasons.

It remains to be seen who will take over from Kennedy, who was entering his ninth season as umpires coach.

Senior assistant Michael Jennings would be the early favourite and is likely to be announced as the interim coach.

Bryan Sheehan has been a long time sounding board for the umpires, while Damian Farrow – who was hired by Hocking – will also be in the mix.

Former player development coach Aaron Grieves – who has worked at Port Adelaide and North Melbourne – could also be considered.

Kennedy’s resignation is an early test for new umpires boss Dan Richardson, who is in his first season in the role.

Richardson was forced to admit that the non-mark to Geelong forward Jeremy Cameron in the dying seconds of Saturday night’s loss to Sydney was the incorrect decision.

It’s not the first time Richardson has been publicly forced to admit an umpire error.

Kennedy was one of the most experienced umpires the game has seen. Hamstring injuries ended his officiating career, five short of 500 games. He umpired five grand finals.

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