Ian Callinan had landed All-Australian selection in 2000 at underage level, but was overlooked in the AFL Draft.
It took him on a journey of domination across both the VFL and SANFL before he was finally given his opportunity on the national stage.
Jack Hudson: What was life like growing up in Tasmania?
Ian Callinan: It’s a pretty proud state, it was a good journey really.
I started playing when I was about six at my local club and went through the ranks there.
They’re not around anymore, I went onto Clarence Footy Club.
JH: You played for a few clubs and played for the state as well – what was that like?
IC: Obviously you had your local club, then it went into seniors, which did have junior clubs but only had under 17s and 19s in those days.
That was through Clarence, I played my juniors there up until under 16s, and then I went onto the Tassie Mariners as they were in those days at TAC Cup level at under 18 level for two years.
I was lucky enough to play in a flag with Clarence when I was 17.
JH: You nominated for the 2000 AFL Draft and didn’t get picked up. Were you shocked?
IC: I don’t know if I was shocked, disappointed was probably the word.
Down here, because we had a TAC Cup team, there would be articles in the paper every week and you start to believe.
I was talked up obviously going and when it didn’t happen it was obviously disappointing, but in the end, it probably made me a better person and made me more determined in the long run.
We were lucky enough at the end of 2000 when I didn’t get drafted, we got our own VFL side, so I had the option of moving away to Melbourne and being a Geelong supplementary list player back in those days, and then I decided to stay home because we had our own side, and I ended up playing there for six years.
JH: What was it like having a Tassie side in the VFL?
IC: It was unbelievable really, it was like having an AFL side just in the VFL.
I have some really close mates from there and obviously we didn’t win a premiership, but we played in some preliminary finals, and some other finals.
We built from the ground up, I remember when we first started, we got put together in January and we were playing in March, I remember our first game – scores were level against Sandringham thinking how good we’re going to be with no pre-season and we ended up getting beaten by 100 points.
JH: You won the J. J. Liston Trophy – how important was that to you?
IC: I wouldn’t say it was important, it was just good recognition having put some good seasons together, that was just one season.
That wasn’t just good recognition for me, but good for the club as well which was built from the ground up.
For someone from the club to win that medal, it was for everyone really.
JH: You then made the move across to Central District, how did it all come about?
IC: I played a state game in 2005 against South Australia, and played on Heath Hopwood, who captained Centrals for a fair few years.
At the beginning of 2006 they rang me, and I was on 95 games with Tassie, and life membership was 100 games, so I decided to stick it out one more year and get my 100 games and get my life membership with the Devils.
I said to Centrals to give me a ring the following year, and I was training at North Melbourne at the time, and they rang me once every three or four days to see how I was going with the Kangaroos and see if I was going to be picked up.
Obviously, that didn’t happen, and I rolled the dice and decided to move away.
JH: You won four flags in four seasons at Elizabeth – what was your experience like there?
IC: It was unbelievable really, when I first got there they were coming off losing the 2006 grand final, the club was pretty hungry.
They were a really professional club, the way they train there is as hard as an AFL club in a way that you go to work for eight hours and then you try to fit a week’s worth of training into two or three hours on a Monday and Wednesday night.
We trained really hard, we were super fit, our leading mantle was that we were fit, and I have no doubt it won us games of footy in the long run.
JH: You won a Jack Oatey Medal and two best & fairests, what do they mean to you?
IC: They mean a fair bit now, I’m still having a bit of a muck around kick here (in Tassie) in the amateurs.
To win two best & fairests in premiership years I’m very proud of that, but at the end of the day, to win four premierships, and we were going for five in a row, but lost to the Eagles in 2011, that’s what you play for, and I’ve been back to two reunions, and I’m back again next week with the 2009 reunion.
JH: I spoke to Richard Cochrane and he said you were probably the most talented player he played alongside. Who would you say is the most talented player you played alongside at Centrals?
IC: That’s a good question actually, I think the Gowans boys – I got to play with both of them, but for guys that were 31, 32 to do what they could do.
I would’ve loved to have played with them when they were around 21-23.
Some of the stuff that they were doing at their age was phenomenal, the way they could run, left and right foot, and the way they led the team, even though they weren’t captain and vice-captain, they had a lot to do with the success at Centrals.
JH: 11 years after the 2000 draft, you were picked up by the Crows in the 2011 Rookie Draft, how did it feel?
IC: It was unbelievable, I was pretty shocked.
We just won the 2010 grand final, and I’m pretty good mates with Hamish Ogilvie who is the recruiting officer at Adelaide, he had a fair bit to do with me and my junior career in Tassie, he coached the Mariners over here, he didn’t coach me, but he did later on.
He rang me on the Wednesday after the SANFL grand final, and I actually thought he was taking the mickey to be honest.
He knew I would’ve been having a few beers, but he said Neil Craig wanted to catch up for a coffee, I sort of didn’t believe him and said I’d give him a call in a few days.
He rang me back and I ended up having a coffee with ‘Craigy’ and he said to come to training, and if I could get through the pre-season and do everything right, he’d look at giving me a crack and that’s what happened.
JH: You made your debut at 28, was it a bit of weird experience?
IC: It was a bit weird, I’ll never forget the day.
My wife Lauren and my little son Jack, who wasn’t very old, we played Geelong over there, it was a chartered flight for some reason, they got to come over on the plane and Jack presented me with my jumper which is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
I barracked for Geelong my whole life and to play against them in my first game was pretty strange to be honest.
JH: You played 32 games with the Crows all up – what do you reflect on when you look back?
IC: The biggest thing for me was I’d played 10 years at SANFL and VFL level and you always have the people tell you that you could if you actually got a chance.
That’s the one thing I look back on is I proved I could actually play at the level.
That’s the biggest thing I take away from it, you always think you can play at the level, but until you get an opportunity and prove yourself, you just would never have known.
JH: You captained the Crows’ SANFL side – what was that experience like?
IC: It was unbelievable to be honest, I really enjoyed my role.
I was getting on in my career playing wise, to try and nurture the younger guys and still be in the AFL system was a terrific role.
It was a tough decision to make with my history with Centrals.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to do was play against Centrals out there.
It was hard to warm up in the change rooms at Elizabeth, but I really enjoyed the role.
I still speak to a fair few of the guys and I hope to catch up with them in the next few weeks.
JH: You’re back in Tassie now, what are you doing with yourself now?
IC: I’m still playing footy, it’s an amateur comp, I’m 36, my brother is a bench coach of one of the sides down here and ended up talking me into playing.
I was playing TFL down here, I’ve retired from that, I’m really enjoying it, just turn up and have a bit of a kick and play with some guys I’ve known for a while.
I play with a team called OHA, they’re Old Scholars.
JH: Do you think a Tasmanian team belongs in the AFL?
IC: Yeah, I think they do.
People say they wouldn’t be able to support it, but at the end of the day, sponsors don’t have to necessarily come from Tasmania anyway.
I think if they pump the money into the Gold Coast and GWS, then there’s no doubt a side down here would work.
It’s just a matter of biting the bullet to be honest, and hopefully they do, and hopefully I’m alive to see it.
JH: Is there anything else you’d like to add, Ian?
IC: I think the thing I didn’t mention, I’d like to thank the Doggies and Crows supporters, they really supported me through my whole career, even the Tassie public down here.
Even the support I got when I wasn’t playing AFL footy was from the Devils supporters down here.