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No excess baggage for this Porter

After being drafted with Pick No. 74 in the 2017 National Draft, Western Bulldogs midfielder Callum Porter has been biding his time in the VFL before finally making his debut against the Gold Coast Suns last week. The Gippsland Power product spoke to about his journey so far, who’s influenced his football career and his love of Yeah Goodboy Goodboy Good Footy Energies

Kavisha Di Pietro: What an exciting game to make your debut in! How did it feel when the final siren went knowing you’d secured a win in your first game? 

Callum Porter: There was a lot of enjoyment and excitement, but there was a bit of relief as well. How close the game was made it that bit sweeter when we did get the win. It was a hard fought game and Gold Coast played really hard all day and so did we. We were just lucky to be the team ahead when the final siren went. It was a great win and an amazing feeling.

It’s been a different build-up this year compared to normal. What was the feeling like knowing you’d be making your debut, but unfortunately your family couldn’t be there with you?
It was definitely different! My parents and my grandparents as well haven’t missed any footy throughout my career, so it was different not having them there with me but I knew they would be tuning in on TV and enjoying themselves at home. I had them there in spirit. At the same time, I’d love them to be at a game, so hopefully this is the first of many and when things go back to normal a bit they’ll be able to come and watch me at the ground.

In terms of the game itself, what was going through your mind when you knocked your shoulder and spent a bit of time on the sidelines? 

It was really annoying and I was so frustrated I couldn’t be out there to support the boys (for the first half). I was lucky to be able to get back on and contribute as much as I could. That was really pleasing but it was definitely a bit worrying (when I wasn’t sure the extent of the injury).

You had to bide your time in the VFL for a couple of seasons before earning your senior debut. What were those years like for you? 

I’ve lived with a couple of guys at the footy club who have had similar journeys. I lived with Ben Cavarra in my second year, who had five years in the VFL before he was drafted and also with Billy Gowers, who played at two AFL clubs before he got his chance. Hearing their stories and spending a lot of time with them gave me a lot of confidence that there are other people who have had journeys similar to mine, and that if I keep believing in myself and working hard that I’d be able to get to where I wanted to get to. Everyone’s journey is different as well, which is something that I didn’t want to lose sight of. It became a matter of not ‘if’ I was going to debut but ‘when’. That’s held me in good stead because it was a reminder to myself that I was going to get there eventually. I was lucky enough to play some good VFL footy last year and some good scratch match footy this year, which gave me the opportunity against Gold Coast. I won’t take that for granted.

Was there any piece of advice that Ben or Billy gave you that stood out in particular for you? 

Not forgetting who I am or the player I am. I was drafted for a reason and they kept reminding me it’s important to back your talents and who you are, regardless of if opportunities present themselves or not. Having confidence that you were picked up for a reason and that your strengths stack up against someone else’s gave me confidence in knowing that I could make my debut. The hard work is behind you and the talent is there as well – so I think that’s a really important reminder – it’s going to work out in the end.

Were there any particular elements of your game that you spent time working on? 

I tried to make my strengths of contested footy and being a good team player something that stood out. Then, working on my offensive game and my outside game as well. Continuing to work on that inside-outside balance and then making the contested side of my game a real strength and something that is going to set me apart, particularly through that midfield craft and playing up forward as well.

During the season shutdown period you spent time training with Cody Weightman as well and you are both from Officer (in Victoria’s Gippsland region). He said that you were a huge support for him during that time. What was it like to have a teammate living so close to you and being able to work together during that period? 

It was great having Cody there. Our families have known each other for a while and our parents live within five minutes of each other. We’d actually done some training previously before getting drafted. The fact that we ended up at the same club was amazing. It’s super cool. I think neither of us would have been as ready as we were if we didn’t have each other to bounce off during that isolation break. It really helped our motivation and to get through that period as well because we had someone to talk to and someone to train with. Cody’s been excellent since getting to the Dogs and it was awesome to have someone like him to work with and train with. Hopefully, we can play some more games together because our first game was unreal.

It must have been so exciting to get to play with someone at the elite level that you’ve known for so long… 

It was. Both of our families were super excited and I think the whole town really got a kick out of it. I’ve had a lot of messages and calls from people in Officer that were sharing how proud and excited they were for Cody and I. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for all of those people supporting us and our families.

What does the Officer Football Club mean to you? It sounds like it’s a place pretty close to your heart, especially after winning nine best-and-fairest awards as a junior… 

It’s a great club. I played with Officer for eight years as a junior and won eight best-and-fairest award there and then won another with Gippsland Power in the NAB League (formerly, TAC Cup) as a top-age player. I’ve been lucky to play some good footy wherever I’ve gone and really push myself to that top level. Officer and Gippsland Power were both really good pathways and I’ve got some lifelong friends from there. The Officer Footy Club is somewhere that’s very close to my heart and a place I’ll go back to once my AFL career finishes up. It’s a great part of the world down there and it was a great place to play my junior footy.

You spoke about your parents and grandparents before. Who were some of the important mentors for you in your football journey? 

All of my family were great through my journey. My (maternal) grandfather Don Beard (who played for South Melbourne) was really big for me. He’s never missed a game of mine and has been a great supporter of my growing up. I think he’s been my main mentor and biggest footy influence. My dad as well is up there. He coached a lot of my junior footy as well. He’s always an inspiration for me and always puts in his two cents, which is good but also a bit frustrating at time (laughs). They’re definitely my two biggest footy influences.

I’ve also seen that you’re a big fan of the Yeah Goodboy Goodboy Good Footy Energies Facebook page. What is it that you love about that so much? 

It’s all just about having fun and being a kid again. When you get into the footy world it can be easy to treat it as a business or lose your love for the game and take it really serious but for me, all of that stuff and bringing good vibes to the club – whether it’s telling a joke or playing music in the gym – is really important. That page is about being a kid again and maintaining your love for the game and making sure we all remember why we started playing. I want to make sure I have that same love and passion for the game as I did when I started playing Auskick. That’s the main reason; but I also think as a club that’s why we’re playing so well – we’re having a bit of fun with it all.

I like your thinking! Thanks for the chat Cal and good luck for the rest of the season.

No worries, thanks Kavisha.