“The lion and the calf shall lie down together, but the calf won’t get much sleep” – Woody Allen
There have been a few times in my footy career when I’ve found myself watching guys play and thought to myself, “I’m seeing the future here”. Some players step into the game with a combination of skill and attitude that just feel new.
For a small few, things clicks right away. Like when Chris Judd burst onto the scene in 2001. In most other cases the raw materials are there in those early years, but they must work their way through a period where we are tantalised by flashes of what’s to come before seeing the roaring flames of a superstar.
While licking my wounds in the departure lounge of Adelaide airport on Saturday evening with my bruised Bulldog teammates, the game between the Gold Coast Suns and the Geelong Cats was playing out on the television. Having just been hammered by 12 goals, our interest in the game up north could best be described as casual.
As my teammates and I tried to cheer each other up over mineral water, peanuts and a few lame gags, our attention kept being drawn to the feats of Bennell, Martin, O’Meara and co. There is Ablett, of course, but these three in particular were doing things to the Cats that made me sit up straight and wonder.
“What are we playing here? Netball?” – Jonathan Brown
I remember playing the Suns in round three of their first year in 2011, when I lined up on Harley Bennell. Queensland’s second team was still very much in its infancy then and we accounted for them pretty comfortably in the end, but I remember the game that day being completely chaotic, with players running in all sorts of crazy and unpredictable ways.
There was a moment though when Bennell led me up the ground and as the ball changed direction he whipped around me and charged towards goal. The manoeuvre was so swift, so unexpected. Thankfully, they turned the ball over on the other side and his dashing run was to no avail, but I couldn’t help think to myself, “Wait til they’ve all played a few games together”.
The Suns have played a few together now. Pretty soon they might be shaping the way the game is played.
Some players come into the game and transform it with something we’ve never seen before. And then there is Jonathan Brown.
Unlike every other superstar I can think of, he never seemed like a player from the future, always like a giant of the past. There was the swagger, the country drawl, the raw toughness, and the kicking and marking style of a 1970s Scanlons footy card.
He was a classic right from the start. In the same way a platypus feels like a stitch-together of several other animals, big Jon could have been mistaken for a Kernahan/Carey/Vander Haar cross breed, in football terms.
Like a lone gum tree standing tall in a paddock, Brown left a shadow over every single game that he played. There’s not too many you can say that about.
As far as I know, there is still no statistic for physical presence, but if there was you can bet the Brisbane Lions’ figurehead would have sat right near the top.
As a mere flanker I only ever had fleeting dalliances with Brown on the field, but I’ll always remember him starting games by throwing his weight around, stretching out his big shadow. Invariably the umpires would get jumpy and implore him, “Calm down Jonathan, don’t give away a free kick.” And every single time his reply would be the same. “What are we playing here? Netball?”
Big Jon liked his footy rough and tough, and footy supporters of all teams adored him for it. In the AFL, the big key forwards are like the big cats of the animal kingdom. In that regard, Jonathan Brown was always the lion.
This article was originally published in The Age and can be accessed here.