Every season, Mitch Brown has the Old Mentonians Football Club wondering.
‘Will this be the year?’, they ask. ‘Might Mitch return to his roots to dominate the VAFA at centre-half forward?’
But Brown has made an AFL career out of living precariously, and ultimately, the key forward’s fans from Mentone are delighted, because his top-level career just keeps on keeping on.
“They call me the cockroach,” he laughed, “Because you can’t kill me.”
Despite being drafted by Geelong at pick 15 in 2008, when he was considered a ‘bolter’, Brown’s career has been defined by uncertainty from the moment it began.
“I had a pretty tough start to my career,” he reflected. “The last practice match in my first year at Geelong, I broke my leg. I missed that whole year, and even into the next year I missed that first six weeks as well … I was back for three or four VFL games and did my shoulder, so I missed the rest of that year, too.”
Brown finally made his AFL debut midway through 2011 — he booted three goals against Adelaide — but re-injured his troublesome shoulder after only two games at the level. He was sidelined, yet again, for the rest of the season.
“It’s not an ideal start for a young guy coming in trying to prove his worth,” he said. “I found that pretty tough, especially playing at such a strong club like Geelong.”
Brown considered himself a “stopgap” in the seasons that followed, given opportunities only when the Cats’ first-choice players were unavailable for selection.
A combination of injuries and Geelong’s triumphant list meant the key tall was restricted to only 15 games in six years at Kardinia Park.
Brown fell out of love with the game to such an extent that he was relieved when the Cats made the call to delist him.
“I didn’t enjoy my football too much, especially in that last year.” the 30-year-old said.
He pondered a return to local football, but decided to suit up for the Sandringham Zebras in the VFL instead. Interestingly, Brown reflects on the moment as his “one last crack”.
But since what would prove an impressive season at state-league level, he has played another six years in the AFL.
It was a renaissance that began with Essendon, where he signed on as a ‘top-up’ player following the Bombers’ supplements scandal, which left 34 players suspended for the 2016 season.
“They call me the cockroach. Because you can’t kill me.” – Mitch brown
The Bombers had tracked Brown’s season in the VFL after he played three pre-season matches for the club at the start of 2015.
“I was in contact with Adrian Dodoro (Essendon list manager) for most of that year and he assured me that they were going to pick me up at end of that year,” Brown said.
“I loved that year going back to Sandy. Playing VFL footy, you haven’t got the stresses of the AFL environment. I felt like I needed that for a year to freshen up … it made me fall back in love with the game again.”
Brown played the next four seasons for Essendon, the last of which was arguably a career best after 21 goals in 16 games.
He was delisted.
“[It was] probably the one year where I thought I wasn’t going to get delisted,” he said. “I played most games and I thought I played some pretty good footy, but as things worked out, they wanted to go in a different direction.”
Brown remains grateful for his time at Essendon, though, and credits Paul Corrigan in particular for helping revive his career.
“Paul Corrigan, who was the forwards coach, had a lot of faith in me,” he said.
Melbourne swooped on Brown following his delisting at the Bombers at the end of 2019, and after a handful of games at AFL level in 2020, the Demons offered Brown a one-year contract to extend his career into this season.
Though he wasn’t part of the premiership 22, he remains a key depth player and kicked two goals with six marks in his sole outing in round five.
Brown recently signed on for another season, making it a remarkable seven one-year deals in a row since being re-drafted by Essendon in 2015.
For another year at least, the ‘cockroach’ lives on.