Callum Brown still hopeful of big future with GWS Giants despite coronavirus crisis
DERRY teenager Callum Brown still hopes he can have a big future in the AFL despite the coronavirus crisis shutting down the league until the end of May – at the very least.
The 19-year-old returns home to Limavady today, unsure what lies ahead as the financial repercussions of the postponed start to the Aussie Rules season are still being calculated amid ongoing pay negotiations with the league’s players.
Since joining Greater Western Sydney Giants in 2018 Brown – a major GAA prospect as well as a potential soccer star with Linfield before moving to Australia - has acclimatised to life Down Under, both in and away from sport.
His first game of the season was due to be on April 4 for the Giants’ North East AFL side against Canberra Demons, though his ambitions go much bigger than that.
The Giants, who also include Brocagh native Aidan Corr among their number, reached last year’s Grand Final and are one of the most improved teams in the top flight, and Brown feels he was just starting to find a rhythm that could lead him to crack at the first team.
“It’s frustrating because the whole first year was developing and then this year, I’ve come on really well, pushed myself forward hopefully towards that first team,” said Brown, who plays as a defender.
“Compared to last year, I’m a lot fitter, lighter, my ball skills have improved… just everything really.
“It’s hard now because you’re not getting to do the things you want to do and what you’ve been given an opportunity to do but everybody’s in the same boat and, as we’re seeing every day, there are much more important things in life. This is just sport.
“For now, I have to look on it as an opportunity to go home and see my family and friends; I’m a home bird anyway. If I was sitting here watching all the other boys go, I’d be getting annoyed about it.
“If the season doesn’t start up when they want it to start [May 31], I could be sitting here by myself for four months or so.”
Players like Brown and all the other Irish recruits to the AFL – including fellow Derrymen Conor Glass and Anton Tohill as well as Tyrone’s Conor McKenna - will be paying close attention to the ongoing pay discussions, with the league pushing for a whopping 79 per cent pay reduction over the next two months.
Earlier this week players informed the AFL, via the AFL Players’ Association, that they were willing to take a 50 per cent pay-cut during that period, though even that would take a significant financial toll on rookies like Brown and Tohill.
Port Adelaide midfielder Tom Rockliff spoke out in defence of the players, and of rookie stars in particular, saying: “If they end up losing their salary like all of a sudden they go to $500-$1,000 to live off a month, which can be quite challenging when you’ve got rent to pay, food to out on your table.”
And Brown agrees it would be a tough spot for the game’s rising stars to find themselves in, even in the short-term.
“We just want the chance to continue to improve as players in the ongoing years - it would take a big toll on anyone and change their mindset.
“It does make a lot of Irish boys think ‘it’s not fair’. We’ve come from the other side of the world, you wanted us here.
“We’re only getting into it – you want to open up, improve and make a name for yourself, but it’s hard to do that.”