‘He was someone really special’: Brown reflects on former mentor Phil Walsh

Adelaide Crows gun Luke Brown. Picture: afc.com.au

After being overlooked in his under 18 year, Luke Brown burst onto the AFL scene with the Adelaide Crows and has established himself as one of the best small defenders in the competition.

From his junior days at Tea Tree Gully, playing his first game, the passing of Phil Walsh and his role as a senior player at West Lakes, Brown reflects on his career to date.

Jack Hudson: You played with Tea Tree Gully, how’d you find your junior footy?

Luke Brown: I started there when I was about five years old.

I absolutely loved it there, every chance I get I go back and watch the seniors play, a lot of my mates are still out there.

Right now it’s difficult not being able to go and watch them, but in the past few years I can.

It’s good to get away from the more elite stuff and watch the locals go at it, it’s always a fun time out there.

JH: You then got scooped up by Norwood, how good was it to get that crack at SANFL level?

LB: I predominantly played with Tea Tree Gully with my juniors and then went through Norwood’s development squad from under 13s to 15s.

I was lucky enough to get picked for the 17s squad and then went from there.

After my under 18 year, Nathan Bassett saw a bit in me and played me in the league team and to take my game to another level.

He was a big person in how I went about my footy in those few years.

To play for a club such as Norwood with so much history and to play in a flag is a great honour and is something I really cherish.

It gave me a great stepping stone into AFL football.

JH: When was the first moment you thought AFL was on the radar?

LB: It’s a hard one, because as a kid all you want to do is play AFL footy and that was always a dream.

When you start going through the under 17s and 18s, you understand it’s a really hard thing to do and get picked up.

My goal was always about improving and then it was to get to the highest level possible, whether it was SANFL which is a high grade or AFL.

It wasn’t until the end of my under 18 year where I started training with the seniors more regularly and ‘Bass’ was giving me a lot more advice, I thought it could be possible.

I wasn’t picked up in my under 18 year, I was picked up the following year as an overage.

That was due to the confidence that ‘Bass’ instilled in me to take my game to the next level and play at league footy.

At the end of that under 18 year, that’s when I thought I could really achieve it.

That’s where the following pre-season going into my first league season set me in good stead for it.

JH: The Giants picked you up with pre-selection, how did that all work?

LB: So with the Giants coming into the comp, they were able to take 10 previous listed or nominated players, and because I had nominated for the year before and didn’t get picked up, they were able to pick me up for free essentially before the draft.

The Crows were still interested in me, so they got a deal done with involved Brad Crouch at the same time.

It was pretty handy being able to stay home in Adelaide and still able to be with family and friends, and it’s made it a lot easier on my career.

JH: Was it a sense of relief that you were staying in SA?

LB: I’d say I was more joyful, because I was really happy to play AFL anywhere as any kid does.

Obviously the closer you stay home the better and to stay in your home state around family and friends, as compared to if I went to GWS, I would’ve been playing AFL but away from those people and may have made it a bit harder.

So to have the support networks to stay home has made it a better experience I believe.

JH: You made your debut against GWS in 2012, what do you remember from it?

LB: It was a bit of a whirlwind and that’s when the Giants were still trying to develop in the competition, and we were having a really good year that year.

It was a hard team to break into and the first game to come against GWS, I remember bits and pieces.

I remember my first kick, a couple of things here and there after the game, singing the song, but the pre-game was a blur, it does happen quick because you’re so excited.

It’s an amazing experience, if I could go back and experience it I would in a heartbeat, one of the best things in footy to be able to play your first AFL game.

JH: In 2013, you got to play in your first Showdown, what do you remember from the build up of the week and then being out on there?

LB: That was a different experience, 2013 was the first main year I started playing for the Crows consistently, I’d played three games the year before and then I was in quite regularly.

The energy, not only within the club but outside and around the city is hard to escape.

That’s the beauty of the Showdown, there’s so much energy and so much passion, and it can be a bit overwhelming.

My first Showdown I didn’t have my greatest game, I was probably a bit overawed by the moment and it was a great learning curve, it’s just one of those things you get to experience.

It’s like playing a final, I’ve played in a few and they’re very similar with the crowd noise, the anticipation and the game is always relatively close.

JH: And you kicked your first goal in the next Showdown as well?

LB: Yeah I did, that was another one of those moments you never forget.

It was a pretty special goal to kick your first in a Showdown, it’s something I do remember.

JH: 2015 was a difficult year for the club, particularly with the passing of Phil Walsh, what do you remember about it?

LB: Pre-season was one of the hardest I’ve experienced, going into another level from the previous years.

‘Walshy’ instilled hard work but also backed his players in.

He was a bloke you could talk to about your game, you knew he had your best interests in his heart, he would always go out of his way to try and make you better, but if you weren’t doing the right thing, you needed to make up for it quickly.

He was someone really special.

I remember getting the phone call from Darren Milburn very early in the morning, and I was in disbelief.

I couldn’t comprehend what was happening, you get that phone call, you get told what happened but it doesn’t seem real.

It didn’t seem real until I drove to the footy club and guys started rocking up and seeing their faces, everyone was sort of the same in disbelief.

But the more players that rocked up, the more we got together, the more it sunk in and the harder it was.

The first game back was obviously an emotional one against the Eagles.

We got beaten pretty comprehensively in the end, but we didn’t take anything from that out of it, we took out we were proud of our effort to front up and go out on the park again and play footy.

The next week was another Showdown, it was great timing in that perspective, we were able to come together and get a big win in the end to set up our season.

JH: What do you remember from that Showdown and the united front?

LB: The united front was a special moment, I don’t think that’s ever been done before between the two teams and I can’t see it happening again.

The energy of the stadium in that last five minutes was the loudest and most energised I’ve ever heard a crowd.

The finish to that game, it deserved a finish like that, it deserved a close game.

The way the two teams went about it was exactly how Walshy liked to coach and liked his footy played.

JH: Later that year you played in your first final against the Dogs, how significant was it to get there?

LB: It’s something in your footy career – you go through phases, you try and play your first game and you’re stoked to play that, then it turns into I want to play consistent footy and keep my spot in the team, then it’s to be as successful as possible.

That was the next stepping stone in my career, trying to be a successful team.

I’d been playing consistent football for the previous three years, cemented my spot, so I wanted to get team success now and to play that first final was the first stepping stone.

It’s like a Showdown, the energy is unreal, the way we played in the end, they got on top of us early, but we fought back and it was a battle, which is what we really liked.

JH: You really established yourself in the side early on, how’d you do it and how’d you deal with the pressure?

LB: The pressure wasn’t massive, I came in as a relatively unknown player, and I’ve gone along that through my whole career, so I’ve not had the massive scrutiny on myself, which it could’ve changed things, I’m not sure.

To be able to play consistent football at AFL level is what is the most rewarding, you start believing in yourself the longer it goes on.

After that first year, I had real confidence in my ability to play on the best small forwards.

JH: In 2017, the club made the grand final, what do you remember of the build up to the year and of course the game, albeit a disappointing result?

LB: I remember going into every game really confident in our team’s ability to get it done.

It’s not cocky at all, it’s a self belief in our team we’re good enough to go all the way, good enough to beat any team and on our day it’s going to be very hard to beat us.

I think the best feeling was going into games knowing what you’re capable of and then performing at that level each week.

Obviously there was games you lose where you don’t perform, but the best teams bounce back really quickly and we were able to do that in 2017.

We were able to beat teams in the first half and it was a really attractive brand of footy.

JH: That preliminary final really summed up that brand of footy, what do you remember about that night?

LB: I remember Charlie Cameron putting on a clinic every time he went near the ball something happened.

That was a complete team performance, everyone played their role perfectly.

We did get an early jump on Geelong and put them away pretty quickly.

In the second half you never know what could happen so you need to keep your foot on the gas and we did.

It was probably the best feeling I’ve had on a footy field after that siren went, knowing what you’ve achieved.

You finally get the chance to play in the grand final the following week, but the joy and emotion of that game was unbelievable.

You could see the emotion on the faces of a lot of the older players, especially who had put a lot of time into the footy club and they had the opportunity.

Unfortunately things can change pretty quickly.

JH: Things are quite different now with Matthew Nicks as coach and a developing list, how have you dealt with that and how have you embraced the role of being one of the senior guys?

LB: It’s interesting being 27 and considered one of the veterans one of the side.

I’m a very competitive person, I don’t like to lose like most footballers, that’s why you play to win.

It is definitely challenging but we have to understand what we’re trying to achieve, how we’re trying to play and we’re going to get better as we go along.

We’ve got a lot of young guys coming into the side now who are taking a step up.

Will Hamill and Andy MacPherson, I’ve spent a lot of time with them and see their development and to help them out along the way brings me real joy.

I’ll be continuing to do that and help them get better because the quicker they get better, the quicker the team gets better and the quicker we can turn this around.

JH: What other players should people keep an eye on in the future?

LB: Lachlan Sholl looks really composed and looked up to the level straight away, he’s elite on both left and right foot.

Harry Schoenberg’s ability to find the ball and use it is incredible, he’s really hard at it.

I could name a fair few, it would take a while.

There’s a lot of development going on behind the scenes that unfortunately no-one else can see, which is disappointing because they don’t know what’s actually happening.

They’re going to get better and they’re going to get better quickly.

JH: How did you embrace the hubs and playing games within four days of one another?

LB: The hub was a really good thing in the end for us as you get to be around each other pretty much 24/7.

There’s restrictions obviously, but you get to see your teammates more regularly than you do now.

At the club you come in at different times, the only time we all train together is the main training session.

You don’t see each other out of hours as there’s restrictions there.

Inside the hub it’s more of a tight knit community, we’re in blocks where you can see each other, at dinners you can have a conversation.

It’s something I think we embraced really well early on.

The four-day break is out of our hands, every team has to go through the same thing, we just want to be on top of it as much as possible and get the recovery right.

We also wanted to be a team that didn’t complain, just took it on the chin, put our best foot forward and I think we performed really well four three quarters against Melbourne.

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