Get to know Finn Callaghan: leader; footy IQ; lockdown diary
Finn Callaghan with teammate and former St Bede's classmate Marcus Windhager. Source: AFL Photos
'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.
May: Elevation to the leadership group
It was a closely guarded never-spoken-aloud thought for coach Jackson Kornberg. Because first, he just wanted to see how preseason, and the start of the season would play out.
Each training session, Callaghan turned up. Always speaking to different kids, making everyone feel welcomed. Frequent text messages to check in with teammates were another element of his leadership, unseen.
His on-field output matched his effort on the training track. Callaghan had confidence from four strong performances to start the year, which saw him elevated into the Vic-Metro squad, yet always remained grounded, checking in with everyone and having a laugh. Those around him often describe Callaghan as boisterous and Kornberg saw that.
The coach made up his mind. He got co-captains Darby Hipwell and Josh Sinn into a room and asked them whether they would be open to adding someone to the leadership group.
“And without hesitation, they both said: ‘are you talking about Finn?’” Kornberg recalled.
“So I think that just speaks to how much he is respected as a leader. I think since we’ve elevated him to the leadership group, nothing’s changed for him.
“He’s doing the same stuff as what he had been doing…I know throughout this COVID period, he’s really good at reaching out and checking in and catching up with different players to do running and footy stuff as well, so I think he’s just a really good connector of people.”
Sandringham midfield coach Nick Moodie added: “He’s really, really good with the young kids – he teaches them and helps them with their structure.”
The promotion caught Callaghan off-guard: “Jacko called me into the room, I just thought we were going to speak about our roles on the weekend and then he said to me, with ‘Sinner’ and ‘Darbs’ (co-captains Sinn and Hipwell) in there, that I was promoted to the leadership group.
“I’m very thankful and it’s a great privilege.”
It wasn’t Finn’s first hurrah with leadership. He had skippered the under 12s schoolboys representative team, junior cricket sides and Mordialloc-Braeside Junior footy club in various age groups.
As Kornberg emphasised, phone calls and messages to teammates were a frequent part of Callaghan’s lockdowns to reinforce his credentials: “If I was in that stage, which I was two years ago, you’re a bit nervous with the older guys, especially initially. So it doesn’t take much to help them fit into the group. I don’t think that’s a leadership quality, that’s just being a good bloke all-round.
“Everyone at Dragons is good to have a chat to.”
Finn's under 16's coach Sean Allcock watched a Haileybury v Brighton Grammar match earlier this year with his former Mordialloc-Braeside captain. Like when Allcock coached Callaghan in 2019, he was struck by the 18-year-old's footy IQ.
“Finn saw really small things on the ground that day that have an impact,” Allcock said.
“His intellect in my opinion is higher than anyone I’ve had at that age, even thinking of my work at Haileybury with Andy Brayshaw and Angus Brayshaw who had a great footy IQ – I’d have him on those sorts of levels.”
Kornberg has seen the progress first-hand. The ability to read the ball off ruckmen’s hands, accumulate plenty of the footy and, increasingly gather follow-up possessions is evidence of that.
“Talk about pure running patterns, Finn’s one of the best in the NAB League in that respect,” Kornberg declared.
“How he runs and his ability to understand where the ball’s going and run to receive, has turned into a real strength over the last year or so. I wouldn’t have been able to say that at under 16 level.
“He’s developed his body, but he has also developed his footy brain.”
Today is parent/teacher interview day at St. Bede’s.
Usually, though, Callaghan would ride his bike to school, five minutes down the road during lockdown.
His mum, Lara, is an essential worker, an occupational therapist who works from home, so Finn completes his classes and study from the library at school despite Melbourne's lockdown.
He knows the script these tend to follow: “Most of them say the same thing: a pretty good fella, some of them say I need to work harder, which is definitely true, I could do a bit more,” he says.
He admits that footy talk and YouTube – mostly footy and golf highlights - are generally higher on his priority list than they should be when he’s at school, and sustained focus is a challenge during the existing lockdown.
He studies P.E, Biology, English and Business Management at school with an eye on studying exercise and sports science at university alongside footy next year, with his parents stressing the importance of a career outside of footy.
Like most, his motivation towards school has peaked and troughed this year.
“He prefers football training to homework,” Mum, Lara notes.
“With a little bit of a nudge, he’ll do his homework. He needs to mix it up with movement. Study, moving, that’s how he gets his best results. Now that he can see the end in sight, I think he’s been certainly more motivated.”
Routine has also been an important motivator for Callaghan.
“I like to write down things that I would like to get done. If you get in the motion of procrastinating, you can end up not doing much, so it’s really important to plan your day when you wake up. I’ve been trying to get up at 6.30 every morning - when I’m doing that, I’m much more productive throughout the whole day."
Though, it is common knowledge that footy is where Finn’s passion lies and yesterday he received positive news about his inflamed left foot which has kept him out of action since the start of July.
“My foot is tracking along really well, so, these next two weeks I can really start ramping up my training, hopefully in two weeks ramping up volume intensity sessions and in the third week more training, then hopefully [I can] play.”
Tonight was his first training with Blake Howes since the good news and he also plans to do some running with dad, Brett, on his off days, having been confined to upper body sessions in his home gym for previous weeks.
Once he gets home, it’s family time. The Callaghans are a tight-knit family, with many coaches commenting on Finn’s strong upbringing. Tonight, they watch the 1989 Grand Final documentary, with Finn admiring the efforts of Gary Ablett Senior in a losing grand final.
Currently, reaching out to different teammates, watching vision of AFL players to deepen his strong footy knowledge and throwing around ideas at weekly leadership meetings about how to keep the group engaged keeps Finn’s footy brain occupied.
He remains hopeful but realistic of getting more footy in this season, despite the restrictions being extended on Monday for a further week.
Given his injury, it’s the purity of footy’s camaraderie and fun of catching up with friends that Callaghan misses, but he remains diplomatic.
“[It’s] disappointing and frustrating, but you can’t do much about it. It is the same for everyone, and it’s not like I’d be playing anyway, so it gives me an opportunity to do my rehab really well because I’ve got everything I need here and more time on my hands, so I can really do everything properly."
In tomorrow's edition of Dragons Tales, learn how Finn made the most of 2020 in order to dominate in his draft year.