Brown’s journey back to VFL ‘best thing that could have happened to me’
Consider the journey of Ben Brown. In his ninth game of AFL football, he played in an elimination final against Essendon in front of 80,000 people at the MCG. He kicked four goals.
He played in two preliminary finals in his first two seasons in a team that he ultimately became a focal point for inside 50.
Ben Brown is revelling in his opportunities at the Demons, soaking in the moment after Melbourne’s big win over Geelong to advance to the grand final.Credit:AFL Photos
Between 2017 and 2019, he kicks 188 goals at North Melbourne. That’s more than his Friday-night counterparts Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron did in the same period of time.
He is on the precipice of a new deal at Arden Street in 2020 when his manager asks for more money. He gets injured. The deal falls through. He’s traded to Melbourne.
The game fundamentally changes. The “stand” rule alters the way teams move the ball inside 50 and teams begin to look for different combinations inside their forward half.
He takes seven weeks to be picked for his Melbourne debut. He plays three weeks and is dropped for two months.
Ben Brown celebrates after scoring on Friday night.Credit:AFL Photos
And now, miraculously, Brown finds himself playing in his first grand final, not at the MCG but at Optus Stadium in Perth. And not as a focal point, but as a role player.
“I’ve probably had to come to terms with a lot in the last 12 to 18 months in terms of my own game and I just come back [and] try to do the things the team wants me to do,” Brown told The Age.
“At times, it’s jumping and marking the ball and at other times it was just scrapping it on the ground from out of position and I think that’s definitely something I’ve improved on this year.
“I probably needed to find my best football again. So going back into the VFL was the best thing that could have happened to me.
“The reality is, after six weeks in the VFL I knew in my own head that I was ready to come back and have an impact on the team.”
Ben Brown is all smiles with Max Gawn and teammates. Credit:AFL Photos
It’s uncomfortable to describe a 200-centimetre forward with an elongated run-up and unique hair as a role player, but that’s exactly how Brown views himself in his new team.
“It’s then a luxury to come in and play in a team with so many good people and so many good AFL players. They’ve made it easy for me,” he said.
“It’s great to be part of a forward line that has so many prongs to it. You’ve got Tom McDonald who’s been outstanding this year. Bayley Fritsch has kicked over 50 goals as a hybrid forward, then you’ve got Kosi Pickett. And when you have the luxury of Max Gawn and Christian Petracca to pop into your forward line, it does make it easier as a key forward.”
The statistics from the preliminary final will state that Brown had eight disposals and kicked two goals.
But inside Melbourne they talk privately about the contests he gets to and the balls that he brought to ground, on top of the seven marks he took.
Brown is not the goal-kicking machine that he was at North Melbourne, but he’s also not asked to be. His biggest haul at the Demons is four goals against Gold Coast.
But on Friday night he occupied Geelong’s best defender Mark Blicavs, and it would be hard to argue that he didn’t win that battle.
Like many of his teammates, Brown is missing his family. According to Brown, he has several video calls a day with “my girls”; wife Hester and daughters Aila and Esme.