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Q&A — Ben Brown

While team results haven’t gone the way Ben Brown would have liked in 2017, he has enjoyed his best individual season. He sat down with to discuss his season, the club’s youth brigade, completing a journalism degree, and a new role with North Melbourne’s recruiting team…

The result wasn’t what you would have wanted on Saturday, but I’m interested to know whether you managed to check out the Coleman Medal race in between your game and the Swans’ one on Saturday night? Your name was up there with Joe Daniher and Buddy Franklin…

I did actually. My partner took a little screen shot of it and I thought it was pretty cool for my name to be up there with them for two hours. It’s something I haven’t thought too much about, though. In footy, it’s all about the team so if the midfielders aren’t getting it to you in the right ways and the defenders aren’t defending well, you’re not going to be kicking goals. It’s really just down to the team. The main thing I have tried to focus on in the last couple of weeks has been ensuring that the new blokes who come into the team are feeling comfortable. We’ve had a few debutantes in the last few weeks — particularly in the forward line — so I’m trying to make sure they feel comfortable when coming into the team and hopefully if I can set them up for a few goals it’ll make me feel better about the way I’m playing.

Speaking of the new guys… with Drew Petrie moving on and Jarrad Waite missing games for various reasons, you really have assumed that lead role. Has anything changed with your day-to-day leadership at training?

It’s something that I’ve been working on because naturally I’m not the most vocal person. I’m more of an introvert than some of the other footballers going round. A big group of us are in a leadership development program this year and we meet once every fortnight to learn some leadership skills, and a lot of the young guys around the footy club are actually looking to step up into leadership roles, so it’s great for us that a lot of guys have those aspirations. Even in the last few weeks I feel that I have been more comfortable to assume that role with some new players coming into the team and making sure I’m vocal and telling them if they’re in the right spot or the wrong spot. I’m trying to be encouraging towards them because they are the future of our club. I’ll hopefully be playing with the likes of Nick Larkey, Jy Simpkin and Cam Zurhaar for a number of years to come. If I can help in any way, then that can only be a positive thing.

I understand you have to provide a lot of direction and support, and make sure they’re not getting down on themselves if they make a mistake, but have you had any situations where you have perhaps had to be a bit more vocal if they have consistently made a few errors that have let the team down? Or is that not helpful?

I like to be positive as much as I can out on the field. I think that’s the best way to ensure that guys want to perform well for the team. If you’re too negative too often, that can end up affecting another player’s performance. Sometimes in the heat of the moment in-game you don’t have much time to get the message across, so you just have a bit of a crack and move on, but then you might follow up after the game, or at quarter time or half time. It does sometimes manifest itself that way but I try to keep that to a minimum. Generally if someone has made a mistake, everyone knows about it and they’ll be told about it 10-20 times and informed about what they could have done better. There’s probably enough criticism that gets thrown around in footy circles and out on the ground. I try not to add to it too much if I can avoid it.

You spoke about the transition and focusing on the players who will be there in the coming years, so what has it been like at the club this year? In the three years prior, you were accustomed to a team that was challenging for the finals and was one of the oldest lists in the competition, but now you’re direction is about the future…

The term ‘youthful enthusiasm’ is one that gets thrown around a little bit but I think it’s actually true in our case. A lot of young kids have come in and brought about excitement and enthusiasm for just being at a footy club. We’ve had a lot of guys come in at the same time who are just starting out their careers, so it’s meant we’re a pretty positive bunch this year, despite the results. We can all see the direction in which we’re going, and we all love having Brad Scott as a coach because he gives us that really good direction and shows us the way forward. We’re not getting down on ourselves which is good because you need to move on quickly when you’re in the AFL system and we have been doing that pretty well with the losses we’ve been copping.

Speaking of the losses, when you started 0-5 you were incredibly unlucky to be in that situation because you were ahead in a lot of those games, how was it knowing that early on in the season it was going to be an uphill battle to challenge for a finals spot like you had previously? You had to quickly move to a mentality of building on performances and making sure you were playing in the right manner rather than focusing on the end result?

As a player, until you’re legitimately and completely out of the race for the finals, you still believe you can get there. We didn’t stop talking about finals being a possibility until we were removed from the calculations completely. We wanted to make sure that we were still aiming for finals. Now that is behind us, we’ve been focused on the way we go about football. Brad has been all about trying to get wins toward the end of this year because the winning feeling is one of the best things you’ll feel in football. We want to become a winning team in the coming years and you don’t do that by losing the last five games of the year in a bad fashion. Losing at the end of the season can spill over into the next year and we want to build up some wins and get our young players used to winning. It’s important that they know how to win and that we’re capable of matching it with the best teams in the competition.

That’s a nice segue because I wanted to discuss the young players learning how to win and instilling that belief. So how does that then make you guys feel internally when you read a story about North Melbourne tanking and Robbie Tarrant being a late withdrawal and Jack Ziebell being rested?

You get used to outside noises when you’re in the AFL system. You have to be pretty good at shutting them out for the majority of time. There are certain things you can take in, but you get pretty good at filtering what comes through. We know what’s going on at the footy club and we’re really comfortable with where things are at. There’s been a lot of talk about Brad this year, but we know exactly the way he talks to us at meetings and we’re comfortable with where he’s at. We think we’re going in a positive direction and that’s all that matters. We just take in what’s useful and the rest of it we ignore.

What are your thoughts on the way game is reported? I assume the 24/7 news cycle can be difficult for a player…

Yeah, it can be. You’ve just got to get used to filtering it. There’s a lot of talk and there always will be. Some of it will be true, not all of it is made up, but what will happen will happen at the end of the year. I just try to improve and see if I can focus on that because there’s a lot of areas of my game that I need to improve on. Everyone at our club is good at maintaining that perspective.

I understand you’ve completed a journalism degree…

Yeah, that one is in the bag. It’s a good one to have and to have finished. A lot of players come into the AFL and they don’t necessarily have that opportunity because they come straight out of school and you can’t do much study when you’re in a full-time job. I’m pretty lucky that I have been able to finish off the degree and it might be something that I look at and explore in the future, but I’ll consider some other pathways as well. Hopefully I’ll be in football for a while, but I’m pretty aware that everything can change pretty quickly.

Have you thought about potentially joining the AFL media landscape once your career ends?

Haha, I’m not sure about that! I’ll hopefully have a few years left in football and then be able to make the decision. Having finished the journalism degree, it might be on the horizon, who knows?

What about your future plans beyond that degree? Do you plan to study more?

I’m actually gaining a little bit of experience through the recruiting department at the club because I thought that could be something to look into to see whether it was interesting for me. I’m just going to see what I can find and get as much experience as I can in different areas.

Are you actually going out and watching games or just learning from the recruiters at North Melbourne?

At the moment, I’m watching some Under 18s Championships games on the computer and taking some notes which is what the recruiters do. Matt Taylor, who is one of our rookies, is looking into that potential career pathway as well. I just thought that the analytical side of football might interest me a little bit more and looking into the future of players. Given that I’m in the system already, and have some idea about how footy is played, I thought there might be some transferable skills there. I’ve just started out — I’ve only been doing it for a couple of weeks — but we’ll see how it goes and whether it becomes something I’m interested in.

When you talk about the analytical side, are you referring to the advanced metrics that are creeping into the AFL, or are you talking more about player skillsets?

Probably more skillsets and analysing player’s strengths and weaknesses and that side of the game which is a different way to how players and coaches generally watch the games. Generally, they look for structures and the way specific teams set up, perhaps mixed with some individual traits. I’m interested in that side of it and looking at the game from a different perspective, and looking at it as a potential job opportunity in the future.

Speaking of individual’s skillsets, you’re one of the more accurate set shots. You’ve had 30 less scoring shots than Buddy but find yourself only three goals behind him so you make the most of your opportunities. How did your routine come about?

It’s been built up over a number of years. It probably started after speaking to my grandfather when I was younger. He told me to pick out a spot behind the goals and kick it there, instead of just having a pot shot and seeing where it lands. The rest of the routine came from there — I started at Glenorchy Football Club in Tasmania, then I moved to Werribee and I decided that I wanted a long run up because that was what was comfortable for me. It has just continued on at North Melbourne and I haven’t had to make too many changes. Every week I kick plenty of goals at training and the rest of it takes care of itself on gameday.

Do you have a set number of steps or do you have a rough guide as to how far you go back?

I walk in eight steps, and then it’s probably between 14 and 18 on the jog after that. It’s pretty set but I like to be able to change it if I need to because it’s important that you’re not too locked in. If something goes wrong then it can really stress you out and can potentially end up changing the result. It’s what feels comfortable for me, and I’m sure other players have their own ideas around it. I certainly wouldn’t recommend my run up to anyone else, I’ve just worked out what’s good for me and over a number of years that’s what it has turned into.

Thanks for taking the time to chat on your day off.

No worries at all. Thanks.