John Sullivan Retires From Umpiring – The End Of A Legendary Era

Written by Ashley Borg

At the end of another successful season for the Newcastle Central Coast Umpires Association, with many awards being handed out to so many deserving, talented umpires, the centre stage and final words were left to a man whose name is synonymous with umpiring. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart, all of you”. With that, John, “Sully” Sullivan, the first Legend of the NCCUA, announced his retirement.

We look back on a magnificent career, one of achievement, respect, service and most of all dedication to the craft of AFL Umpiring.

Sully’s career commenced in the South Australian Amateur League back in 1965. He went into National Service and umpired in the South Australian Country Leagues from 1967 to 1969. He moved to the Newcastle area in 1970 and commenced umpiring in the Newcastle Australian Football League (NAFL). In fact, when John was in the National Service, his first match ever officiated in the Hunter region was a match between the Singleton Army vs the RAAF. Sully reports that the Army won by 18 goals!

John Sullivan umpired a total of 1083 AFL matches in Newcastle, a mammoth achievement over such a long time!

Sullivan took on the role of Umpire’s Advisor, a role he would hold from 1970 to 1974, then again from 1976 to 1978.

He was President of the Newcastle AFL Umpires Association from 1971-1975 and umpired 531 matches in that competition.

In 1974, he received the inaugural “Umpire Achievement of the Year Award”.

Sully’s achievements in Grand Finals was tremendous. He officiated in the 1977, 1981, 1988, 1989, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 Newcastle AFL First Grade Grand Finals and the 1980, 1982 and 1983 Reserve Grade Grand Finals.

When the newly formed Black Diamond AFL emerged in the year 2000, the Newcastle Central Coast Umpires Association (NCCUA) was also born. Sully was the logical and best choice to take on the Presidency of the newly formed group. He did this admirably from 2000-2005, laying the foundations for what we, as umpires of the current NCCUA, enjoy today. He was the Umpire’s Coach, along with Neville Turner in 2002 and was also on the NCCUA Committee in 2009, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Sully is currently on of our three patrons of the Association.

A Life Member of the Association in 2000 and BDAFL Life Member, John Sullivan became the NCCUA’s First Legend at the Inaugural presentation of the Hall of Fame in 2015. The honour of becoming the NCCUA’s first legend could not have gone to anyone more deserving.

In a stellar 481 match career with the NCCUA, Sullivan umpired in a staggering 427 matches as Goal Umpire, with 252 of those in the Black Diamond Cup (First Grade), all three of these figures are current all-time NCCUA games records.

He was the Goal Umpire of the Year in 2012 and 2013 and had the Goal Umpire of the Year Trophy named after him not long after. Any aspiring Goal Umpire who wins the John Sullivan Award will know they have their name placed alongside one of our greats.

Sullivan has also graced both of our Umpire of the Decade Panels, one of the very few to have this honour. He was the Black Diamond Cup Goal Umpire of the Decade, along with Joseph Wenta, in 200-2009 and was part of the Black Diamond Plate Umpires of the Decade in 2010 – 2019.

Sully officiated in a whopping NINE Black Diamond Cup Grand Finals as a Goal Umpire, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2012 and 2013.

He officiated in the Reserve Grade Grand Finals of 2005, 2011 and 2017; the Black Diamond Plate (First Division) Grand Finals of 2014 and 2018, as well as the Black Diamond Shield (Second Division) Grand Final of 2016.

Sully’s drive, passion and genuine love for umpiring shone in everything he did. Sully never shied away from wanting to pass on the skills and knowledge he had with his fellow umpires, especially the younger generation. If you began your umpiring career in Newcastle, there’s a fair chance that John Sullivan taught you something about the art of umpiring!

There was never a match or a training session where Sully didn’t have a story to tell, or a trick of the trade to pass on. He was an honest, everyday bloke who loved his footy and loved to share his knowledge, skills and passion for the greatest game on Earth with others.

Sullivan’s service to the Association, the league and to football in general will never be forgotten, nor may it ever be surpassed.

We wish John Sullivan all the very best in his retirement from AFL umpiring and hope to see him around the traps.

In Sully’s own words, “Thank you Sully, from the bottom of our hearts”.