Translating dominance at local level to NAB League stardom
Finn training with the AFL Academy side. 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.
Finn’s first memories of footy involve his dad. He recalls waiting in the loungeroom of his childhood home with a sherrin in his hand for dad to get home from work to catch the last of the daylight for a kick of the footy.
As mystical Melbourne dusks would replace the brightness of daylight, their backyard lights would come on allowing "five more minutes" of kick to kick – using both his left and right foot - while singing the St Kilda theme song to regularly stretch beyond darkness.
In summer, there were games of backyard cricket and Finn regularly whacked the ball over the fence – to the ire of one particular neighbour.
But it is Brett’s grounding in elite sport as a 400-metre runner at the 1994 Commonwealth Games that gives Finn an edge in the intangible and cliched ‘professionalism’.
“Preparation in terms of getting your body right, looking after your body, rehab and recovery and people in athletics do that really well. I try to assist, it’s getting a bit harder as he gets older I think," Brett said.
Brett breeds that love of athletics into his son – Finn’s preferred sport at the Olympics is athletics and his favourite Tokyo memory was the gutsiness of Pat Tiernan.
When the Aussie long-distance runner limped across the finish line at the 10,000 metre final after collapsing twice in the final lap, Callaghan posted the clip to his Instagram story with the simple caption: ‘amazing’.
For reference, an 18-year-old posting something on social media is their nod of approval. Their stamp of appreciation.
Everything wanted Tiernan to stop but he had the mental resistance not to.
That never-say-die attitude is characteristic of how Finn approached 2020 – with Dad and personal trainer Cory Hargrave.
Hargrave is one of many people around Finn’s sporting ventures that notes the impact of his father, Brett.
Lockdown was an irritating challenge for Finn who loves being around people – at school, it’s the locker room chats and at the footy club, it’s the time spent with teammates.
He is also an outdoors kid. A casualty of last year’s lockdown was the annual Callaghan caravanning trip to Pambula on NSW’s far south coast. The family would set up their 1980’s Jayco so Finn would awaken to the sight of the waves he would surf that day.
Back at home, one-on-one games of basketball, riding around with friends and mountain biking with Dad were Finn’s happy places when he was not on the footy field.
“He was always wanting to play and full of energy. He was absolutely full on,” says Mum, Lara.
Time indoors is not conducive to his personality, making his training more impressive.
Finn was referred to Hargrave from the Pulse8 Centre at the end of 2019 following hip issues.
Having worked with AFL talent including Brayden Maynard and Jack Higgins, Hargrave knows that the best way he can help Finn is through building his body to a point where he would be consistently performing, closing the gap between Finn’s best and his worst.
In between lockdowns, Finn would be in twice a week doing strength work, while a bi-weekly zoom setup during lockdown with a group of other NAB League players gave Finn a dose of human interaction, while allowing him to make the most of his home gym setup by properly following a program.
Hip-flexor exercises were a major focus, given prior hip injuries, with Hargrave focussed on increasing mobility and range of motion – that reflects in his movement and agility on-field, while Hargrave noted the work ethic will make him less prone to injury.
“He was dedicated to begin with and was really impressed with him coming in and everything I prescribed to him training wise, he’d stick to it and make sure he got all his work done which reflects in how his performance has been over the last 12 months,” Hargrave said.
“He’s pretty shy and he’s very humble. I think he’s quietly confident in his ability but he’s not necessarily outward with it.”
Another satisfying element for Finn was building his leg strength, something that had halted his kicking penetration in the past.
“Last year when I started I had really weak legs. It’s getting better, they’re still not as strong as they could be, but I think Cory has helped heaps with technique stuff.
“I can kick the ball much further now and run faster off the mark.
“When I first got started, I was way behind the eight ball, but he’s improved me heaps. Short kicking has never been a weakness, but kicking penetration has improved rapidly, it had been a major weakness.
“It was such a change in my physique and power. It was actually good motivation. I saw all these changes and I wanted to keep going.”
Despite his supposedly “weak legs”, his Dad’s grounding meant that he had well-established running mechanics – a feature of his footy throughout juniors – but there was still scope for improvement in an otherwise barren 2020.
A highlight of the otherwise repetitive lockdown cycle, those sessions occurred 2-3 times per week as his dad applied a program he used during his career.
“We’d just go down to the footy track and do lots of runs over 60 metres and 110 metres - repetitive running. It was all about running form and running technique to try to [get him to] run like an athlete rather than a footballer,” Brett said.
Finn specifies his explosiveness off the mark as an area that improved.
“Trying to improve my power off the first five metres I think is really important breaking out of stoppages and that kind of stuff and lots on that and upper body strength put on a bit of muscle which helps me stand up in tackles.
“I also did lots of kicking, practicing my right foot lots. I think it’s really important that I try to be as good on my right as I am on my left. Worked on kicking and stuff and groundballs and marking.”
Sandy midfield coach Nick Moodie, who also coached Finn as an SMJFL representative in interleague in 2017 saw his rapid growth.
“He was a pipsqueak kid with a high-pitched voice and he’s turned into this six-foot-four monster that runs like the wind and kicks it beautifully on his left foot,” Moodie said.
“He was a midget. He played small forward and you could just tell he had footy smarts, but his body was so immature compared to some of the other boys. They all towered over him.”
Thanks for reading this week's edition of 'Dragons Tales'. Next week, we will get to know Campbell Chesser.