He might be following in the footsteps of the Gaelic footballers before him, but Callum Brown wants to tread his own path.
In fact, Brown, who made his AFL debut for the Giants earlier in the year, “couldn’t care less” about the Irish narrative that is bound to follow him; he is determined to write his own story of success.
But you would be misguided if you are beginning to judge Brown as arrogant.
He is politely spoken, but rather than opting for the common clichés by which we are accustomed to, he speaks with the swagger of an NBA star and the fire of a UFC fighter.
“As long as I dominate, then I’m going to be fine,” the Greater Western Sydney rookie told aflplayers.com.au.
“Even in Gaelic, I didn’t really look up to anyone. I play for my team, family and friends, but I always knew I could do it. I knew I was the best. That’s just the attitude I’ve always had.
“If you were to ask me a question about — this is even the same in Gaelic — ‘What do you think about this player, or what do you think about them?’, I just always look at them like, ‘I couldn’t care less, to be honest’, because I’m here to do my own thing and play my own game.”
Brown was picked up by GWS in 2018 and signed on as a Category B rookie, a year after he was first noticed by Giants scouts.
The athletic 188-centimetre competitor admitted he had been challenged by the prospect of contesting against opponents who had played Australian Rules since childhood, but what he will never concede is the possibility that he will be beaten.
“I’ve had the attitude of, ‘When I go onto the field, I’m going to be better. He may have played the game for 12 or 13 years more than me, but I’m still going to hopefully dominate him’,” he explained.
He made his AFL start this season, in round 11 against Brisbane — albeit as the medical substitute — before playing his first on-field minutes against Geelong in round 21. He booted two goals in the Giants’ upset win over the Cats, but succumbed to a hamstring injury late in the contest which brought a premature end to his season.
The pair of AFL outings and preceding dominance for County Derry define Brown’s journey so far, but it all began far from the green pastures of Gaelic fields and Aussie Rules ovals.
Instead, it was a crime-riddled English town that played host to Brown’s dawning.
“I was born in England, in Luton, and I moved [to Ireland] when I was five to live in my great granny’s house — she wanted us to live in it, so we took the opportunity to move across,” Brown recounted.
“Luton wasn’t the best town to be around; it was a bit of a mess. I didn’t have a notion about Gaelic ‘til I actually moved.”
A talented young soccer player, Brown swapped football codes after a close friend’s dad noticed his sporting knack.
“He was like, ‘You look very sporty, you play soccer, you’d probably be interested in playing Gaelic’,” Brown said.
Brown was not only interested in playing Gaelic; he also happened to be very good at it.
By the time he was 14, he was a member of County Derry’s development squad: “That’s when I really started to pick up my game,” he said.
He picked up his game to the point that a completely different game, Australian Rules, was suddenly on his radar.
“Some of the boys had a couple of jokes here and there. Even coaches as well, they would joke about, ‘Oh, the AFL’s going to approach you, you’re going to get scouted’ and things like that,” Brown said.
Among those coaches was Chrissy McKaigue, a fellow Derry man who signed an AFL rookie contract with Sydney in 2008.
“We got into the All-Ireland quarter final, and he was saying, ‘There’s going to be AFL scouts watching, so you better be in your top form.’ I didn’t really think much of it, [but] eventually, I was contacted by Nick Walsh (former Giants development and rehab coach) in the [Irish] summer of 2017.
“They came out that Christmas, Heath Shaw (who would be Brown’s teammate at the Giants) as well, and showed me a couple of clips [of AFL], we messed around with the ball a bit, did a couple of drills.”
Walsh, an Irishman who coached at the Giants for seven years and will soon begin at St Kilda as the club’s new fitness boss, can recall being instantly impressed.
“Ripping guy, very quietly spoken, but you could see some sort of passion around wanting to play sport at the highest level,” Walsh said of his initial impression of Brown.
“Where he’s from, it’s a small, small place at the very top of Ireland. His Mum was a lovely lady, and this opportunity doesn’t come too often for a middle-class family living in the north of Ireland.
“We noticed, ‘Alright, this kid’s a bit different, and he has the confidence to make it’ but not in an arrogant way. It’s more, ‘I know what I can bring, I know I’ve got speed, every time I play a grade up, I’ve always been one of the better players, so give me an opportunity’… we knew he had that.”
Brown’s character, though, was only the first element that Walsh, Shaw, and eventually Giants list boss Jason McCartney were attracted to. His on-field prowess came next.
“You’re picking a highly-tuned athlete who’s got really explosive power, and you’re combining that with the fundamentals of Gaelic footy, and soccer as well,” Walsh explained.
The Giants were sold. The only question remaining was whether Brown was prepared to pack his bags and trek halfway across the globe.
But despite having only just turned 18 years old, there was little hesitation.
“It was more exciting. In my mind I was thinking, ‘This is a better lifestyle and a better opportunity for me to make a living for myself’, so I wanted to experience something new and challenge myself,” Brown said.
“I’ve had the attitude of, ‘When I go onto the field, I’m going to be better.”- Callum brown
Brown’s ambitious mindset fuelled a determination to master the new football skills, too, while his immovable confidence kept him buoyant in the midst of new surroundings.
“I’m quite competitive, so I didn’t really let anything let me down or get to my head if I had a bad kick or I wasn’t able to do this or do that. That’s got me to where I am now, and I’ve definitely come a long way since then,” he said.
But while the kicks, the handballs, the tackling and the marking took some training, Brown had quite a natural grasp of behind-play physicality, as one swiftly learns through a quick scroll of his Instagram page, where he is pictured gleefully taking on a pair of opposition players in a reserves game.
“I think it was ‘X’ (Xavier O’Halloran) and ‘Bunts’ (Matthew Buntine) talked to me after that game saying they’d seen me in that scuffle, they said, ‘You looked all right, we were going to come over, but it seemed like you had it all covered’,” Brown said.
“It made me realise why I love this game.”