By Russell Bennett
Callum Porter has been playing the waiting game for a while now – really since his best and fairest-winning season at the Gippsland Power came to an end.
But as he stood boundary-side at his beloved home ground at Starling Road in Officer, he did so confidently – assured in the knowledge that he’d done everything within his control to put his name forward to AFL clubs for the national draft this Friday.
“Whatever happens I’ve done everything I can to give myself the best chance to make it, which was my goal leading into the year,” said the 18-year-old with a maturity level far beyond his years.
“I’m definitely going to strive to keep playing the highest level of footy I can – whether that’s AFL footy, the VFL, or at local level.”
But make no mistake, his unflinching desire is to make it to the AFL. He doesn’t have to look far for inspiration either, with fellow Power alumni Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti one player who had to clear a number of hurdles before he finally got the chance to make his mark at AFL level with the Bombers. He was relentless, and so too is Porter.
“Matt Priddis is one guy I’ve followed and he went through a few drafts before he eventually got picked up,” Porter added.
“A relentless attitude is what you have to have. If you’re lucky enough to get into the system, you’re starting at the bottom of a list again and you still have to be relentless even then – it’s not just some relief.
“At the end of my career I want to be able to say I’ve done everything I could possibly do to make it. You can’t ask for much more than that.”
Porter’s strengths – his calling cards – are his uncompromising toughness in both his defensive pressure and contested ball-winning ability.
“If I can lay a really big tackle early in a game or earn a really hard contested ball that’ll put me in good stead for the rest of the game,” he said.
“I’m not sure why that is, but something inside me clicks and it keeps me in that contested mode.
“When I’m playing really good footy I can take a good mark for my size and I can play on both the inside and the outside too because of my pace and endurance.”
Porter knows better than anyone the importance of versatility.
“You have to be able to play forward or back, or on the wing, and not just be a pure midfielder because realistically going on to senior footy, whether it’s AFL or VFL, you’re not just going to slot straight into a midfield,” he said.
“With the nature of rotations and the way the game has changed, you’ve got to be able to play different positions and the more strings you can add to your bow the better.”
Porter’s close network of family and friends – along with those at the Officer and Gippsland Power football clubs – have been his biggest inspiration over the journey, and provided him with all the motivation he needs to succeed.
“I always think back to the footy club here at Officer and everyone I’ve met along the journey – everyone who has helped me,” he said.
“I probably spent every second I could down here as a young fella and I got to know everyone. Even coming down here now people are always asking how I am.
“I’m really lucky that I’ve got a lot of people around here who support me, and I’ve got a really close family as well.
“Making my family proud, and Officer as a footy club and a town as well – that’s probably my biggest motivation.
“You can’t underestimate the impact that the footy club and each individual person within it has had on me, even though they might not realise it.”
And Porter won’t forget the role the Power has played in shaping him as both a footballer and a person, either.
“It’s been a privilege and an honour to have played for the Power and it’s just a bonus to have won the best and fairest,” he said.
“It’s definitely been hard work but the good thing about the footy club is that – and it’s something that Pete (region manager Peter Francis) and Leigh (coach Leigh Brown) always pride themselves on – people come into the system and regardless of how long they’re there they try to make them not just better footballers but better people as well.
“I just feel lucky to have been able to play at that level for them and I’ll definitely miss it, but I’m ready for the next chapter and looking forward to putting my best foot forward with whatever opportunities I can grab.”
The AFL National Draft is in Sydney this Friday night. The Pre-season and Rookie drafts kick off from 5pm next Monday.