Category: Feature Articles

Smith relishing Cannons journey

Written by Jarryd Barca

He played 224 games for North Melbourne across a playing career spanning 12 seasons and has spent time as an assistant coach with successful AFL clubs such as Hawthorn and Richmond. 

It’s fair to think that the demanding rigours of AFL football – where the ultimate goal is to win a premiership in a winner-takes-all competition – and its professionalism is the level you need to reach to find real enjoyment in the footy industry.   

But it’s at the Calder Cannons where head coach Ross Smith is re-establishing a similar joy he had whilst coaching his sons in the Under 12s and 16s at Aberfeldie many years ago.

One of those sons – Jesse – who was also a part of the Cannons system, was drafted by North Melbourne in 2004.  

The NAB League being more about development than results is an aspect the 54-year-old is relishing. 

“Absolutely, it’s probably the biggest joy,” he said.

“Seeing kids become more responsible and seeing their skills improve and leave here hopefully better people – they’re all the joys.

“It was really enjoyable coaching the Under 12s and 16s when I coached my two boys (and) this is very similar to that with a few more responsibilities here.

“The focus is taken away from winning a little bit – we all want to win when the game roles on and players are no exception to that – but the main focus here is to develop players and get as many drafted as possible.

“Second to that is making sure we develop our players to become better people.”

Smith – who has coached the Cannons since the start of the 2018 season – jumped at the opportunity to join his good friend and former teammate Alastair Clarkson when the four-time premiership coach dialled his number prior to 2005. 

“I started off as opposition analyst and then was a coach for the next six years,” he explained.

“I spent seven years at Hawthorn with ‘Clarko’ and learnt an enormous amount there.” 

Smith recalled a significant moment of the 2008 grand final which may or may not have spurred the Hawks to an unlikely victory against a red-hot Geelong outfit in the big dance. 

The Cats had lost just one match for the entire season and were clear favourites going into the match in their bid to win back-to-back flags. 

“It’s funny because I speak about how you look at what’s written on a white board before games, they do a lot of work during the week obviously. But you look at our white board before the grand final and it had nothing on it,” Smith explained.

“Alastair wanted a shark on the white board, so we just super impose one up and I traced it. Alastair came back into the room and thought I was an artist!

“But that’s all he had on the board for the grand final. Geelong were the shark and it was about stopping it – that was the reference.” 

After being left out of the North Melbourne premiership side in 1996, the ’08 flag slayed a few personal demons. 

“Collectively to win a flag coaching with Alastair – a very good friend of mine and doing it with some great people – it was just amazing,” Smith said.

“(It was) an amazing day really, we were under dogs against the Cats who were unstoppable. We obviously rushed a few points – it wasn’t deliberate – and they missed a few as well and that helped us. 

“Everything just went right for us on the day. It is a different feeling for a coach than it is a player but in some ways there are similarities as well.”

Following his Richmond tenure which ended in 2016, Smith worked at The Social Golf Club in a year out of footy.

But the opportunity to come to the Cannons as a full time regional coaching director in 2018 was one that Smith couldn’t pass up – and the club is better for it.

“We’ve been extremely fortunate having Ross here, he brings a wealth of knowledge and experience and has been invaluable,” Football Operations and Admin Coordinator Matthew Burton said.

“One of his strengths is education and development which is perfect for this competition. 

“He brings a level of both professionalism and enjoyment and I know not only the staff but all the players enjoy having him here.” 

Brown grasping at elite opportunity

From the Eagles to the Cannons: Curtis Brown’s journey continues

Written by Jarryd Barca 

This time last year Curtis Brown was playing his final season of junior footy with the Macleod Eagles, dominating his way to a Yarra Junior Football League (YJFL) best and fairest award.    

Now aligned with North Heidelberg in the Northern Football Netball League, it wasn’t until very late in the piece in 2018 when he found himself in the Calder Cannons program. 

He played a handful of late games but never really found his feet. 

Four weeks ago Brown pulled on a Vic Metro jumper to take on Vic Country in one of two Under 18 trial academy games played at Ikon Park.  

In a click of the fingers, the 18-year-old is now vying for a spot in the final squad to play in June’s National Championships.  

“It was a great experience and an absolute honour to pull on the jumper,” Brown said. 

“Just to think where I was at this time last year … I was playing local footy and school footy, and now to be able to represent Vic Metro is an absolute honour.

“I found the game was a bit quicker, but I held my own.” 

The Marcellin College graduate has enjoyed a first-rate start to the 2019 NAB League season, averaging 18.4 disposals and four rebound 50s per game.  

“Curtis came into the program a bit later last year as a 17-year-old … but this year he’s really been pivotal for us for our drive off half back,” assistant coach Brad Murphy said.

“His speed and decision making are really, really good.

“He’s the self-proclaimed best kick in the club but he sort of backs it up, his skills are very good on his left side and he’s got that good balance between defence and attack.

“He’s a very good player and in the Vic Metro side as well at the moment so that’s a real feather in his cap and hopefully he can make the final squad and continue to play well for us.”

Without Year 12 commitments holding him back, the classy left-footer spends two days a week landscaping and finds himself either in the boxing gym or undertaking pilates. 

He even almost made it as a barista.

“I did VCAL last year and that was our project, to become a barista,” Brown explained.

“We had our own little shop in the school, went to go get a barista license and all that, so (I’m) a little bit of a barista.” 

But would he pursue it further?

“I was about to, then I just put it on hold for a bit. I’ll crack under pressure when I try to make coffee! I don’t really want to make coffee to be honest,” Brown conceded.

The Macleod junior life member started playing at the club when he was six years old and went on to represent the Eagles for more than 200 games. 

His speed and decision making are really, really good.

Brown said his switch to North Heidelberg as he exited his junior career was due to his bloodlines at the Bulldogs.

“Well I had basically been there my whole life, dad’s just always been there,” he said.

“I used to always watch them when I was younger so I’ve sort of just grown up in the environment of North Heidelberg.

“I thought I’d just keep on the family thing and head there, my uncle played there (and) dad played a few games. 

“I don’t think he was that crash hot though actually,” he added with a smirk.

“I think he should’ve stuck with the music which is a good thing I think.”   

Brown’s father Russell – better known as Rusty – is a well-known and well-credentialed musician who plays in Melbourne-based hard rock band Electric Mary. 

“Every time he gets up on the stage I get a bit of a chill, I get a bit nervous,” Curtis said.

“But then when he comes up and you see all these people cheering him – they’re here for your dad – it’s something special.”  

Brown might be a good kick of the footy, but even he thinks he’s a “shocking singer”. 

“I try to think I am (a musician) but I can’t sing, if I could sing I’d probably be alright,” he conceded. 

“I played a bit of guitar, I started on the drums (and) was pretty good, but shocking singer.” 

Playing pure midfield throughout his young career like most in the NAB League, Brown’s shift to the half-back flank has seen him take a keen interest in AFL defenders whose attributes he can emulate.  

“Someone like a Tom Langdon from the Pies or Jack Crisp,” he singled out.

“Just the way Jack Crisp dashes off the half-back flank but then also gets back and takes the intercept mark.

“Same as Tom Langdon, his grand final game last year – you couldn’t get much better than that – the way he was able to intercept mark and get the play going was something that stood out.” 

While there might be a long way to go until he cements himself into a world where his revered Langdon and Crisp are current occupants, Curtis Brown’s path leads to a no doubt exciting destination.

Hear the full interview with Curtis on our Cannons Uncovered podcast below.

Inside the Brodie Newman sanctum

Leader, self-taught hairdresser and everything else

Written by Jarryd Barca

Thirty-six disposals, 17 marks, seven rebound 50s and three tackles – meet Brodie Newman.

That was the output from Calder’s Under 18 boys captain in their Round 5 clash against the Geelong Falcons. 

Oh… and he’s a key defender.

But don’t be fooled, Calder sent the ball inside 50 more often than its opponent.

It was the second time the 18-year-old has led the disposal count for the Cannons this season and he is the second ranked player in the NAB League for average marks per game (7.5) despite missing Round 4. 

The 193cm defender’s impressive performance ironically came just two days after appearing on the ‘Cannons Uncovered’ podcast, where he singled out Richmond’s Nick Vlastuin as a player he keeps a close eye on as a high possession-winning defender.

Vlastuin collected 28 touches against the Demons on Anzac Day eve in a near best-on performance against Melbourne in Round 6 of the AFL.

“He’s a really hard worker. You know Richmond’s back six – Alex Rance, Grimes – they get a big wrap but the guys like David Asbury and Nick Vlastuin, I don’t think they get a big enough wrap,” Newman said.

“You saw last night he was the leading disposal winner for Richmond. He’s great, just someone I really like to watch.”

The aspiring defender acquitted himself with credence in the NAB League contest, often acting as a brick wall for Falcon midfielders and the mastermind behind many of Calder’s offensive thrusts. 

While he did his chances of being drafted at the end of the season no harm, he also lured nothing but praise from his coaches post-game.

“I thought Brodie Newman was outstanding across half back,” assistant coach Brett Gourley said.

“In terms of individual efforts it’s probably one of the best games from a Cannon that I’ve seen. 

“Obviously missing Brodie last week was a huge factor against Tasmania, he’s a quality player, a quality person and a quality leader. 

“We’re just happy any time that he steps out in a Cannons jumper because we know it’s going to make our job as coaches easier and also helps the players a lot as well.” 

Newman missed the side’s Round 4 match-up against the Tasmania Devils after being selected in the Under 18 Vic Metro squad.

Teammates Sam Ramsay, Curtis Brown, Harrison Jones, Campbell Edwardes and Daniel Mott were also selected to take on Vic Country.

Newman said it was a privilege to be a part of the squad and give himself another platform to prove himself as a capable footballer, now a chance to represent the Metro in the AFL National Championships in June. 

“It was the first real hit-out against Country and it was just good to get a feel for it above standard and hopefully I get the chance in June,” Newman said. 

“It was just good to get out there and have a hit with the boys, most of the boys that played we were with in early December and then early January on our camp so it was good to finally get a go with them actually on the field instead of just training.” 

Newman was in the Cannons leadership group last season and he admitted captaining the side was a major goal to work towards.

“To be announced captain of this group was something that I was really proud of and really honoured to be a part of,” he said.

“The bunch of boys that we’ve got this year are just fantastic, we’re a really tight-knit group as we talk about every week (and) nearly every day at training. To lead those boys out every week is just an honour, it’s fantastic.

“I’ve got Daniel Mott and Harry Minton-Connell by my side as vice captains and they’re great as well,” he added. 

“There’s plenty of leaders scattered who aren’t labelled as leaders but there’s plenty of them scattered throughout, even the younger guys coming through, they’re even standing up as leaders so they make my job really easy and at the end of the day I’m just another player.”

It’s everyone’s childhood dream to be drafted, but a sign of Newman’s maturity comes from his will to be the best possible leader. 

“I just want to play, personally, consistent footy and try to lead the boys as best I can and try and get the best out of the guys coming through,” he said. 

“It is the first time (for) some of the boys playing elite level footy, so (I) just try and be a role model for them. 

“As an 18-year-old you are trying to play your best footy and keep developing so it is finding the balance between being keeping that team-orientated mentality and also making sure that you put your best foot forward and show people what you can do.

“I think as a captain I’ve got to put the team first and that’s what I’m trying to do week in, week out.

“The leaders I had last year – Mitch Podhajski – the way they took the young guys under their wing was something that I found really helpful so I’m just trying to mirror that this year, that’s one of my goals.” 

The bachelor of business management student at RMIT said there are both pros and cons to no longer having to juggle Year 12 commitments with football anymore – like the vast majority of the league are currently doing. 

“In terms of individual efforts it’s probably one of the best games from a Cannon that I’ve seen.”

He also spends two days a week working at a freights and removals company and one night a week at local footy club Aberfeldie’s canteen. 

“Not being at school gives you a lot of time to relax, kind of do your recovery and focus a lot more on your footy,” he said.

“But you’ve got to keep busy when you finish and some boys struggle to do that and they just go into that footy orientated mindset, so I thought it was really important to do something this year.”

Perth-born Newman spoke of a specific ritual that he sticks by at every game that he plays.  

“I’ve got this really old pair of boots – they never get worn – but they just come to every game with me and just sit there in the bag, it’s a silly one but they just sit in the bag,” he said. 

“They never get chucked on.”

When questioned, Newman assured that the boots are not homogeneous to ‘Like Mike’ style basketball sneakers with super playing-ability powers. 

And if football and business management both don’t come off, Newman – who cuts his own hair every fortnight – could always derive a career out of hairdressing.

“I did a little trim, a little polish up for the boys down at the (Queenscliff) camp, It was six or seven boys who wanted a trim so I thought ‘yeah I’ll give them a trim’ and they were happy with it,” he explained.

The infamous camp cut was then known as ‘The Brodie’. 

If his performance against the Falcons is anything to go by, then Newman has no doubt dipped his toes into AFL waters. 

Listen to Brodie’s full interview on our podcast below.

Gentile joins path of bravery and sacrifice

Still a privilege six years on

Written by Jarryd Barca 

They say when you’re on the footy field it’s like going to war.

But when former Cannon and Australian soldier Corporal Cameron Baird became the 40th Aussie soldier to die in the Afghan conflict in June, 2013, many Australians – including the Calder Cannons family – suddenly realised what it truly means to be intrepid and courageous. 

Corporal Baird’s devotion to being selfless was an attribute that came naturally to the son of former Carlton footballer Doug Baird. 

The Gladstone Park local was a talented footballer and was given the chance to represent the Calder Cannons in the then TAC Cup – where he was dubbed by many as the next Wayne Carey. 

Baird played alongside AFL champions Paul Chapman, Ryan O’Keefe, Jude Bolton and David Johnson during his time at Calder but was a shock non-selection in the 1999 AFL Draft. 

Instead he joined the army in 2000 where self-sacrifice was an expectation – something he had in spades. 

“I just hope that I can live up to what people wearing the jumper are expected to do.” 

In 2007 he was awarded the Medal for Gallantry for his actions in a search and clearance operation of a Taliban stronghold, while he was also awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia in 2014 – the first ever posthumous recipient. 

The Calder Cannons Football Club has since awarded one player each season with the number 27 VCMG jumper – the number worn by Corporal Baird. 

The player who wears this jumper displays strong acts of selflessness, discipline, teamwork and a willingness to work above and beyond. 

This year Ned Gentile has been given the opportunity to represent the guernsey in all NAB League games this season – presented the jumper by last year’s worthy recipient and 2019 top-ager Tye Browning.  

Corporal Baird passed in defence of his country. His courage knew no bounds.

Neither does Ned’s.

“It’s pretty significant to a lot of people and to the club as a whole. To be presented that on jumper presentation night was pretty special and it’s a privilege to be given the opportunity that I have,” a humble Gentile said.

“I just hope that I can live up to what people wearing the jumper are expected to do.” 

The 17-year-old is enjoying his second year in the Cannons program and has played a crucial role in the opening four rounds of the season, carrying his head-turning form into their recent Round 4 loss against the Tasmania Devils where he collected 20 disposals, took eight marks and laid six tackles. 

Gentile simply plays with a resilient and determined attitude that instills confidence into his teammates and makes them walk taller.

“Wing is my preferred position,” he said.

“This season I’ve played mostly on a wing, (I’ve) gone through the mid a little bit as well and I like to go forward to try and impact on the scoreboard.” 

Ned Gentile (left) presented the number 27 VCMG guernsey by teammate and former recipient Tye Browning at this season’s jumper presentation.

Standing at just 175cm, Gentile said while he doesn’t tune in to watch one specific AFL player, he takes note of multiple when watching the footy who play with similar attributes – “one that is smaller and has to use things other than their size to get an upper hand on their opponent”. 

The Airport West junior has also played a lot of cricket, “but it was always going to be footy”, and now he’s trying to prove his worth in the newly-formed NAB League competition. 

And the end goal?

“Obviously everyone down here wants to get drafted, that’s our main goal. I’ll work as hard as I can to get my name called out at the end of the year,” Gentile said.

“But if it doesn’t happen, (I’ll) keep working at it and go to the next step, but hopefully we can have some success as a team and at the end of the year maybe some individual success as well.”

The young wingman admitted noticing the pressure of performing in Australia’s premier Under 18 competition.

But it doesn’t phase him. 

“I think it’s actually really good, it’s really healthy competition,” Gentile said of every player in the competition striving to be drafted.

“There’s blokes that want to play for each other as well as try to impress scouts for themselves, blokes going out there and you know they’re giving one hundred per cent every week because they want to show what they can do. 

“There is pressure but you just deal with it, you just go along and play the best footy that you can.” 

Gentile said he’s been impressed with the camaraderie between he and his 2019 Cannons teammates, kick-started by a mentally and physically gruelling pre-season camp in Queenscliff. 

“It really brought everyone close together,” he said. “There’s a few less blokes on the list than there were last year and it’s really brought us closer and closer.”

Forget about pre-game rituals, Gentile tends to head into the trainer’s room roughly 10 minutes before the opening bounce of a game, “but that’s just because I get a little bit hyped up sometimes”.

His energetic persona makes him popular amongst the playing group, but it’s Gentile’s desperation and never-say-die on-field attitude that saw him earn one of the greatest honours within the four Calder Cannons walls. 

Listen to Ned’s full interview in our Episode 1 of our podcast below.