'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 midfielder Finn Callaghan.
Round two: Oakleigh
It's a perfect start to the season for Finn Callaghan. While bigger names like father/son prospect Nick Daicos grabbed much of the hype, Callaghan gathered 19 impressive possessions off the wing. He played his size nicely in his first official match since last year’s growth spurt and was elusive and measured with ball in hand.
Best and Fairest votes: 0
Finn Callaghan: “It’s so much easier when you’re a little bit taller, but I’ve had the experience through my juniors being small and skinny, so when you’re bigger and stronger it is an added weapon really,” “I know how to play tall and small now which really helps.”
Nick Moodie: “I think in the last couple of years he has grown something like 14-16cm, but you could always tell he had footy smarts.”
Round three: Northern
The soggy conditions lead to a contested, get-it-forward at all costs match which didn’t necessarily suit to Finn’s run and carry on the outside. He still amassed 13 possessions and played the conditions nicely.
Best and Fairest votes: 0
Jackson Kornberg reflecting post-season:“It was a quieter game but his ability to use the ball and run to the patterns is really solid. He had some things he needed to work on - generating run and carry and get a few handball receives - going into the Dandenong game. The beauty with Finn is he never has two bad games
Round four: Dandenong
An intercept mark in the centre square. A step around the man on the mark. A penetrating 50 metre bomb through the big sticks. That confidence, kicking penetration and footy IQ was pertinent all day as he was named best afield with 24 clean touches, moving smoothly and smartly and getting follow-up possessions.
He found out post-match that he added been added to the AFL Academy Squad to face Geelong’s VFL side the next week – reward for a stellar start to the season.
Best and Fairest votes: 20 (maximum available votes)
Kornberg: “We really encourage him to use his legs and run and carry and challenge the guy on the mark and use his weapons because that’s the thing that ultimately going to get him seen at the next level. And I think he’s shown that he can float forward to and impact in the front half.
“I’ve been really, really impressed with Finn – he’s had a super start to the year. He will always seek feedback and act on it and adapt his game to what we’re trying to teach him, which is really important for someone coming through the program. He’s a bubbly kid and the boys all get around him”
St Bede’s games
Callaghan loves being on the hunt. Dad, Brett, calls him an aggressive surfer. During their annual summer trips to Lorne, he scathes when people get in the way of his wave.
“He loves it, he will be out there for hours, we don’t surf too often, he’s keen. There’s no holding back or waiting,” Brett said.
He applied himself with the same ferocity and hunger when he played as an inside midfielder for St. Bede’s in the ACC competition. When a ball was there to be won, he embraced the challenge.
Kornberg and AFL Academy coach Tarkyn Lockyer watched one match at St. Bernard’s, with particular appeasement.
During that game, Callaghan mixed four goals with a strong performance in the midfield that gave Kornberg the confidence to trial Callaghan inside the midfield at a higher level.
"He nearly won us the game with his goalkicking," said St. Bede’s coach Owen Lalor.
"He was getting tagged in the midfield that day against St. Bernard’s but he was playing very, very well. And then what you saw is his ability to take the tagger to the goalsquare and isolate him, he’s just too clever and athletically gifted with a lot of space in front of him.
"The real weapon with Finn is he can get his hands on it on the inside, but he then accelerates out of stoppage.
"He showed that he can get his hands on it in the tough stuff, but he can also burst out of that, which is really important, he’s not just one of these guys that extracts it by hand."
Another best-on-ground performance for Callaghan, according to the coaches. The experiment of playing him on the inside paid dividends as he slipped tackles and advanced the ball forward as a mover around the contest.
Best and Fairest votes: 19 Kornberg:“I think Finn was outstanding in the midfield. I think it was his first game playing inside-mid, we’ve seen him play at St Bede’s with ACC footy on Wednesdays playing inside-mid and going forward so we know he can do that, so I was really happy with his game.
“While we got done against Western, I think that was probably one of his more productive games, a fair few clearances and contested ball and I think that was the day that a lot of people watching Finn thought: ‘okay, well he’s now a genuine hybrid, he can win the ball on the outside but he can also go in and get his hands dirty’”.
Round nine: Eastern
Another Callaghan masterclass. Playing as a midfielder, he set up teammates with hard-ball gets and found space himself when given an inch. He backed his size and used his run, and he was typically bold with ball in hand. In between the lockdowns, it is his third consecutive NAB League best on ground performance to reinforce his credentials as a top ten pick.
Best and Fairest votes: 20
Callaghan: “Jacko wants me to take the game on, play on and use my kicking skills a little bit more; take some harder options and try to break the game open.
“I don’t think I’ve surprised myself. Last year I feel like I would’ve had a good preseason but no one got to show it obviously. I was really happy with my training at the start of the year to set myself up so I wouldn’t say I was surprised and I’m trying not to look too far ahead. I want to be living in the present and getting the best out of myself."
Kornberg: “He’s gone away and built his body - and he needed to improve that element to stand up against bigger bodies - and you look at him now, he’s gone from a kid to a man this year. His ability to win the ball, he wasn’t able to do that a number of years ago because of his body size.”
Trial game: Vic Metro v Vic Country
In what would be the only hit-out for Callaghan at national championships level this year due to COVID complications for the competition, Callaghan was part of a strong showing from Dragons players including Luke Cleary, Marcus Windhager and Blake Howes, among others.
Kornberg:“That was his first game at that sort of level and he adapted really well and was still able to use his weapons of speed and ability to change angles with his long left foot kick. He was composed with the ball so he was one of the better players on the day. That was probably the first moment where, outside the academy game against Geelong, that was the next step up and he adjusted to that level as well and he kept going from there.”
Round 11: Tassie
More Callaghan dominance. Took some clean grabs and was willing to play on in general play and he looked a player in form. He got plenty of the footy and was willing to look in the corridor and back his ball use, strength and run to reinforce his balance as a midfielder. The Tassie game would be his final game of the year due to foot inflammation.
Best and Fairest votes: 15
Kornberg: “We threw him forward a bit more. A good mix of contested and uncontested. A really solid start and had seven inside 50s which is something he is really working on so that’s been super for him. He continued on his rich vein of form.”
In tomorrow's edition of Dragons Tales, we'll get to know Callghan away from the footy field