By Russell Bennett
Drouin favourite son Bob McCallum is a giant footballer with the heart to match.
The Hawks’ ruckman was a crucial part of Vic Country’s famous 25-point win over Vic Metro in the 2018 Community Cup at Ballarat’s Mars Stadium on Sunday, serving as vice-captain in the side coached by St Kilda legend Danny Frawley.
And he relishes every single chance he gets to push himself to the limit against the highest-calibre opposition possible – whether it be for the Hawks in the Gippsland League, for the Gippsland League’s interleague side, or for Vic Country.
It’s part of his competitive drive – part of what sets him apart.
“Not many players get that opportunity, and I feel like you have an obligation to say yes if you’re asked,” said the former Drouin coach, who this week plays his 200th game for the club.
“I love playing rep footy – just because you get the opportunity to play against the best players from other leagues and playing with the best as well.
“The skill level rises, the smarts of your team mates rise, and it’s just a great opportunity and privilege to be able to play in those games.”
McCallum, now 33, was a late starter in a footballing sense – having come across to the game from basketball.
But he’s since represented Vic Country three times, along with a missed opportunity in 2010 when he was selected but had to withdraw from the Canberra-bound side due to a medial ligament injury in his knee.
But McCallum, a myotherapist, has been lucky throughout his career to date when it comes to injuries. The durable big man puts his hand up to play whenever he’s called upon, at whatever the level.
“Representative footy provides a challenge that I really love, and always look forward to,” he said.
“You’re coming up against some pretty good players, and while I didn’t know too much about my opponent on Sunday before the game, looking in the record I saw 209 centimetres and 111 kilograms and knew I was in for a big day!
“There’s a real challenge there, and I love attempting to rise to it.”
McCallum has long been one of the premier big men in the Gippsland League, and in 2015 became the first ruckman in 19 years to win the Trood Award and Rodda Medal as the competition’s best and fairest player.
He’s also served as interleague captain, while also serving as player-coach for Drouin.
But while McCallum has always put his hand up for higher duties, the same can’t be said for some of the other star players in the competition.
“There are still plenty of guys who shy away from it unfortunately,” he said.
“It’s disappointing because we’d like to put in our best team and see how far we can take the league.
“I think that’s the way some guys should look at it – it’s not just a one-year thing. If you can really put in a good performance, you can look to be a part of it for years to come, and it’s something you can be proud to be a part of.
“With the rankings system, we’re a bit disappointed where we’re at right now with the Gippy League because we should be around that five or six mark and competing with those better leagues but we haven’t had the best team in for a few years in a row.”
From a Vic Country perspective, McCallum and the rest of his team mates took real pride in their win on Sunday – given the quality of their opposition, and the trying, wintery conditions in which the game was played.
“Having guys like Danny Frawley and the coaches who’ve been involved before, like Knightsy (Peter Knights), you learn a heap,” he said.
“We don’t go too much into a specific style of play as such, because you’re only there together for a short time, but in terms of what they bring to the group that’s just phenomenal and I’ve definitely learnt a lot.”
McCallum praised the performances on Sunday of best-on-ground medallist Adam ‘Skinny’ Baird (Golden Square) and captain Jason Cole (Seymour), while adding that Cora Lynn youngster Jaxon Briggs provided plenty of run and dare.
“It was windy and wet, and those guys in the midfield really cracked in and put the pressure on when we didn’t have the ball,” McCallum said of Vic Country’s win, 12.17 (89) to 9.10 (64).
“When it was loose, the aim was to get the ball forward as much as we could. They set the tone early with their tackling pressure and their run and carry.”
And while McCallum learned plenty from his time in the Vic Country set-up under the likes of former coach Knights, it’s clear how highly the Hawthorn legend rates him – selecting the former Buln Buln senior premiership winner in the side of the best country footballers he coached across his time at the helm from 2009-16.
The side, published in The Weekly Times, featured a who’s who of country football guns from right across Victoria – and McCallum more than earned his place.
He’s not sure how much longer he’ll keep playing at the representative level, given he’s a father of two girls under five, but added there was one factor that could see him putting his hand up for at least another season.
“Spud (Frawley) did say after the game that we were very close to getting a game on Etihad Stadium this year, so next year would be an even bigger possibility and that pricked the ears up a little bit,” he admitted.
“We’ll see how we go.”
McCallum has ticked off plenty from most footballers’ bucket lists, but says the one thing he wants most is still a premiership at his home club – Drouin.
“As an individual I feel like I’ve covered most of the things that I would have liked over my career with the VFL and Vic Country and that kind of thing,” he said.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have those opportunities.
“The only thing left, for me, is a premiership at the home club. That’s what’s left, and while that’s still a possibility, I’ll go for it.
“If there was another opportunity to win one in my time, I’d certainly be pretty disappointed if I wasn’t there to be a part of it.”
McCallum spoke about how well-placed Drouin is moving forward – with its tireless committee led by Chris Soumilas, and young up-and-coming playing group led by Jordan Kingi and Eddie Morris and featuring heart-and-soul players like David Olsen, who’s soon to break the Hawks’ games record. He knows, better than anyone, just how important a rock-solid culture is to any side’s success and he wants desperately to be a part of the next Drouin side that achieves the ultimate.