How Finn Callaghan turned an ‘alright’ 2019 into a Best-and-Fairest year
Finn with his dad, Brett
'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.
Finn Callaghan’s Dad, Brett, remembers the trip home vividly.
Finn was stunned silent, devastated.
Blake Howes was also in the car – they would commonly travel into different training sessions together. Tonight it had been the Vic Metro under 16s session and more specifically, the night that the final squad would be announced.
Howes was excited for the trip to Queensland that awaited him, but remained quiet, understanding the disappointment of his mate.
Mother, Lara, observed his mood when Finn got home: “It was the most upset I’ve ever seen him but I think it was one of the best things that ever happened to him because I think he believed he could get better,” she said of Finn’s omission.
That’s a common denominator when speaking to people familiar with Finn’s journey. The omission was a blessing in disguise.
“He may not have said much to other people, but he had a real desire to work hard and get better and I think he really listened to the advice he received,” Lara continued.
It had the potential to break him or propel him, and it did the latter, awakening Finn to the necessary work rate required for higher honours.
“Within a day, he bounced back and gets the feedback he needs and moves on and says ‘ok, what’s the next goal’ and what can I do to get better and I think that shows a bit of resilience,” said Brett.
Given advice that his physicality and body size were reasons behind him missing out – along with his two substandard games for Sandy – he went back to local side Mordialloc-Braesaide, with the aim of captaining them to a premiership.
As well as missing out on Vic Metro selection, his coach at Mordi-Brae’s under 16s side Sean Allcock recalls another turning point in Callaghan’s year that would ultimately catalyse 18 months of challenge and reward ahead of 2021.
It was a breezy mid-winter night at Mordi-Brae’s Walter Galt Reserve in 2019.
Allcock’s premiership fancies are coming off two consecutive losses in the strong SMJFL competition and, recognising the impact of Callaghan to the squad’s success, he unleashes on the captain.
“I said to Finn, ‘where do you think you’re at, how do you think you’re going?,’” Allcock recalled.
“And he said, ‘yeah, I’m going alright’ and I said to him: ‘you are miles off making a Dragons list and miles off getting drafted if you continue with this complacent attitude of getting the ball on the outside and flicking this switch on and off.’ I just gave it to him!”
It was a carefully orchestrated plan by Allcock. Finn trusted his coach’s views, so Allcock phoned him prior to training to deliver that feedback privately to a shocked Callaghan and inform him of his plan to provide spark to the playing squad by castigating their captain.
“He was the spiritual leader or barometer of the group and their success was always dependent on how Finn Callaghan went,” Allcock said.
“I said to him [over the phone] ‘the other guys are following what you’re doing, believe or not!’
“He said ‘no they’re not,’ and I said ‘They are!’
“Anyone else at that age and maturity would’ve absolutely capitulated under that spray.”
Impressively, this occurred at a stage when Callaghan’s dream to play footy became a feasible pursuit for him. He wanted to get there, thought he could, and wouldn’t stop at the first berating.
“I was SO brutally honest, but that was the relationship we had,” continued Allcock.
“I never told him he went well if he didn’t.
“I gave him honest feedback where I could because it was clear that was the pathway he was going to go, so if he did end up in the system, he needed to be able to take that on board.”
“That was an example of him willing to cop it just to get better. That didn’t kill him, it made him stronger, so that was a testament to his character and willingness to get better at all costs.
“The following 10 games he was best on ground at that level and in my opinion, the best in the competition.”
Finn had learned to have faith in his slight frame and get dirty and creative to extract the ball and weave through traffic, rather than being a breezy wingman.
“…And I reckon that second half of the year where he was winning his own footy was really significant, to the point where I hadn’t seen that sort of elevation in form.”
“To being outside and then going inside and learning the new strategy and having faith in his body was really significant.”
In tomorrow's edition of Dragons Tales, we'll learn how Finn's preseason set the tone for a massive 2021.