GAA Football

'There's a bit of spunk about this guy': How young Derry star Callum Brown caught the eye of AFL scouts

Callum Brown has signed a two-year international rookie contract with Aussie Rules outfit Great Western Sydney Giants. Picture courtesy of gwsgiants.com.au
Neil Loughran

THE Great Western Sydney Giants weren’t actively seeking out Irish talent but after a tip off from back home, Nicholas Walsh soon found himself on the trail of Callum Brown.

His native Cavan came up against Brown’s Derry side in the Ulster minor final 15 months ago, and the game was in the balance at half-time with the Oak Leafers two ahead.

Cue Brown’s eye-catching second half performance after being sprung from the bench.. He might not have scored but his pace, direct running and ability under the high ball gave the young Breffnimen nightmares.

Derry ended up winning by seven, and within days former Cavan midfielder Walsh received a phone call telling him it might be worth checking out the Limavady powerhouse.

“That’s how it started, and I’ve been involved since day one,” said Walsh, who was a defensive coach with the Giants.

“Someone from Cavan flagged him with me, more or less in passing. At the time we weren’t looking for anyone…”

But when Walsh returned to Ireland with star defender Health Shaw last December, they made it their business to check in with Brown, spending time with the teenage sensation.

“We knew he had talent but we just wanted to see what kind of person he was, whether he’s a driven character.

“We got to know his family, then myself and [Giants list manager] Jason McCartney came back over in March, went to a couple of club games and they were great.

"They welcomed us, they feared someone was going to come and take him – if it wasn’t us, it might have been soccer.

“It probably wasn’t until he came out to Australia in July that we really saw that drive – well, I saw it when we tested him in March. There was a three kilometre time trial that I actually ran with him, in the rain and snow during that bad time around St Patrick’s weekend.

“Now he didn’t run the time we wanted, but he didn’t give up. At that point I thought ‘there’s something here’. Then during his trial in July I remember thinking ‘there’s a bit of spunk about this guy’, and that’s one of the characteristics we look for.”

Read more: Loss of third top talent in space of a year 'tough to swallow' admits Derry boss Damian McErlain

It was confirmed yesterday that Brown had signed a two year international rookie contract with the Giants, becoming their first ever Irish recruit.

And Walsh says that, despite a few rough edges, he is excited by the 18-year-old’s potential.

“Obviously he has elite speed, elite agility, good enough decision-making skills, he needs to improve a little bit on his endurance, which he knows, but you can’t have everything. He’s only turned 18 after all.

“He still has a lot of work to do and a long way to go, but he’s a really good lad.”

Despite his professional association with the Australian Football League, Walsh admits he does have sympathy for Derry after losing a third top talent in the space of a year.

Brown follows in the footsteps of Glen’s Conor Glass, now with Hawthorn, and Anton Tohill – son of Derry legend Anthony – who signed for Melbourne outfit Collingwood earlier this month.

It is a bitter blow for Oak Leaf boss Damian McErlain, but Walsh feels it is an opportunity the young men could not refuse.

“I actually feel for Derry a little bit because I know there’s a massive amount of work being done there. Sometimes I think it’s just the luck of the draw; that three talented players have come along at the one time.

“It’s an opportunity. At the end of the day, we’ve said to Callum ‘you’ve two years here to prove you have the appetite to make it, or show that you’re progressing and if you don’t you have two years of professional football under your belt, you’ll be 20 years of age, and you potentially go back to Derry a better footballer’.

“That’s the way I would see it anyway. But you look at the likes of Pearce Hanley, Tadhg Kennelly and Zach Tuohy - they’re three lads who have made it or are making it.

“The likes of Conor Glass and Conor McKenna, they’re only breaking through.

Obviously they’re doing things right because they’re getting opportunities to play but they’re still learning the structure of the game.”

The AFL is due to hold its next three-day European Combine in Dublin from November 29-December 1.

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