'Dragons Tales' is a series of indepth feature stories on some of our top prospects in 2021, exploring their junior careers, their upbringing, the ups and downs of the dealing with COVID complications and more, written by Jonty Ralphsmith. This week we will be focusing on half-forward Blake Howes.
In June, Blake Howes stopped and thought when asked about his goal for the 2-kilometre time trial at the NAB AFL Draft Combine at the end of the year. That was the time he determined to be challenging, yet achievable.
Endurance was a key focus of Howes’ 2020 training which made the 6.54 he ran at testing at the beginning of the year hard to take.
“I’ve been at a similar mark for a while now with my endurance running. I've put in a lot of work, but haven’t really been able to smash my time by a really good amount, so I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do that at the 2k’er [at the combine] but I’m really hoping to beat it," he said in late September.
“I’m pretty confident because I’ve done a lot of running sessions [and] they’ve been pretty hard.”
His move onto the wing midway through the season demanded a strong tank. The COVID interruptions therefore worked in his favour as he tagged along for gruelling sessions with the Callaghan family.
Finn Callaghan's Dad, former Commonwealth Games runner, Brett, has given his son an excellent running base, one which Blake benefitted from.
“I had a run with him and his dad yesterday, a really solid one which was good, keeping up with Finn is pretty hard, he’s just a bit in front of me with his endurance.”
His hard work meant the cancellation of the NAB AFL Draft Combine aggrieved Howes. But, the invitees still ran a two-kilometre time trial via Strava. Howes’ hard work was validated as he improved his personal best comfortably.
The event is Blake’s last formality prior to the NAB AFL Draft. And it’s a strange time for the 18-year-old.
He has started some work as an electrical labourer with a family friend to occupy him for the next month.
Doing an unscored ATAR means he does not need to complete his final exams and he therefore finishes his schooling about six weeks earlier than most of his mates.
After enjoying work experience in year ten in the industry, he hopes carpentry can be a future career path.
Nostalgia twines as he recalls his time as a junior footballer. His club’s home ground, Walter Galt Reserve, is sentimental to Howes' childhood.
“It feels really weird just thinking about it, but every now and then I think about my junior days at Mordialloc-Braeside and I feel at times I just want to go back and play there again because I miss it a lot.
“It was really enjoyable playing local footy with my mates. We were pretty underachieving side,” he admits.
Along with Howes, the team contained Sandy Dragons players Finn Callaghan and Caleb Lewis, and Dandenong Stringrays' Justin Davies, yet, after under 11s, they perennially fell short, making finals each season thereafter, without claiming another flag.
For two of those years, Howes was co-coached by his father, Andrew, who played 260 games for Hampton United, and Finn Callaghan’s dad, Brett.
“Blake had the talent and the football smarts, he was playing under 14s across the halfback line where he could read the play well and intercept mark and then use his pace to run off and create opportunity down the field," Andrew Howes said.
“In under 15s we used him through the midfield and as a forward to give him an opportunity in those positions as well so he wasn’t pigeon-holed. He certainly had the athleticism, he could fly for marks and was a good, long kick in under 14s and 15s so he was a pretty rounded player back then.
“We spent a lot of time down at the oval, Blake and I, just practising kicking and working on areas I thought he could improve and get an edge on opposition players.
"He’s always had a spunky personality, he’d always muck around but anything to do with ball sports or physical activity he was generally up there. A personable kid that might have to be moved away to concentrate on his work."
Friendship with Finn.
On his first day of Kinder, Blake Howes charged towards a footy and gave it a heave-ho.
Finn Callaghan, too, was a sporty kid, introduced to sherrins early in his life.
That’s how Finn’s mum, Lara, remembers it.
“When I saw Blake with the footy, I thought ‘that’s fantastic, that boy will definitely play with Finn’ and I remember meeting Lauren (Blake’s mum) and going ‘oh my gosh, what are they doing’, and we’ve been friends ever since," Lara said.
Throughout that year, it was commonplace for Blake’s and Finn's parents to pick them up from the naughty corner after they had been wrestling.
Each day would follow a similar routine: the boys would arrive at preschool, grappling with each other, footy in hand, and then some more, until their sprightliness wore their teachers down.
“He always loved being rough and wrestling and tackling people right from the time he could walk at kindergarten really, AusKick so he’s always progressed well. Footy’s suited his nature in many ways,” Lara said of Finn.
The boys’ rough and tumble would eventually cause the sherrin to be banned from the kindergarten yards.
Speak to anyone who entered their lives from the age of three to the present day and their stories are inexorably linked. Not just because they were elite talents that played together, but because they were never apart.
Junior basketball teams. Cricket XIs. Local footy. Representative footy. Rides into training together. Primary school. St. Bede's. Running. Golf.
In year six at their primary school, Howes and Callaghan led theirschool football team to the Grand Final before being unable to compete because of under 12 Victorian schoolboy representative side commitments.
At their junior football club, Mordialloc-Braeside, they alternated who won the Best-and-Fairest each year.
Parents at 'Mordi-Brae' would complain that the boys would look out for each other on the field and stat each other up.
“Even this year it still seems to be happening,” Andrew said.
“Finn might be on the half-back flank and he’ll see Blake on the other wing and just kick it perfectly to Blake to run onto the ball and the same with Blake, he will see Finn somewhere. They’ve just got an uncanny ability to find each other."
Having seen their friendship up close for many years at school and ACC footy, Owen Lalor quips: “They're childhood sweethearts.”
“They’ve known each other all their lives and families know each other so well and are strong in their connections. Very, very talented boys. I have no doubt they help make each other better.”
Thanks for reading this week's edition of 'Dragons Tales'. Next week, it will be Finn Callaghan in the spotlight.
Blake and Finn Callaghan in the under 12s schoolboy representative team