Callum Brown celebrates a goal during the R21 match between GWS and Sydney at Giants Stadium on August 5, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

OF ALL the individual breakout campaigns in the AFL in 2023, that of Callum Brown's at Greater Western Sydney may well have been the most fascinating of all.

Surrounded at the Giants by a myriad of super-talented, early draft picks, who were all destined for the top from a young age, it was the Irishman who had to learn the game in obscurity in Sydney's west who emerged to make as much of an impression as any, in the club's dramatic ascension to a preliminary final.

>> Win $25,000 in the official AFL Tipping comp! Sign up NOW

On Saturday night at Giants Stadium, the 23-year-old once Gaelic football prodigy will face GWS' preliminary final conquerors in Collingwood again, and play in a season-opener for the first time in his now burgeoning career.

It's a prospect that he fails to hide his excitement for in a chat with

"It's really exciting because for the last five years I haven't been able to get in the team for the first game of the season," he said.

The Opening Round encounter is a stage the magnitude of which Brown is growing accustomed to.


And it's a team he now belongs in. Fully.

His presence up forward in a side that won 11 of its last 14 games of the season including two away finals made sure of that.

But even when he was basically unknown to all outside of those in orange and charcoal, the County Derry product was never willing to take a backward step.

"When I first came across, I always had the mindset where even though I'm new to the sport, I'm not going to let anybody put me down," he said.

"I know there's players who've obviously been playing for 10 years, 15 years, but I'm not going to let that beat me down and show that they're the better player than me, than I am. I'm going to come across and show what I can do."

That belief has seen Brown become one of many crucial role players in the Giants' attack and somewhat of a hybrid between the high-pressure forwards in Toby Bedford and Brent Daniels and key targets of Jesse Hogan and Toby Greene.

And while Brown is all-in on the mantra of the collective at GWS, he's provided an honest reflection of his shifting mindset to take charge of games in his own right as well.

"I reckon sometimes I probably should think about myself a bit more often and where I can become the best player I can be," Brown said.

Callum Brown and Isaac Quaynor compete for the ball during the preliminary final between GWS and Collingwood at the MCG on September 22, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"Sometimes I do have those thoughts where it would be nice to contribute in that way where I'm really lifting a team so we can become a better group in general. But I just want to be there for the boys, I don't want to just play for myself."

If the Giants' form of the second half of last season flows into 2024, it'll only take some minor improvements for an inaugural premiership to land in Sydney's west.

And that raises the possibility of Brown becoming just the fourth Irishman to be a part of an AFL premiership side.

"I've just thought about winning it, to be honest," he said.

"It would be nice to obviously win it for everyone back home because I know everyone's going to be supporting me and that does push me on to do it even more.

"That's what Ireland's all about. Once you play for a team, they're all for it and yeah, it'd be special, a special moment."

Callum Brown after being recruited from Ireland by GWS in 2018. Picture: AFL Photos

As Brown's reputation continues to grow in the AFL, so too is it being forged in his homeland.

"During the finals series, I'm pretty sure my old primary school opened up so if anyone wanted to come in and watch the game, they had it all set up, that was good," he said.

"My mum tells me what's going on, she's got a good relationship with the principal of the school. She stays involved, everybody tells her what's going on, she goes next door to our best friends and watches the game with them.

"Everyone's really supportive and always pushing me on to be a better player."


While the Irish recruits have always been celebrated both in Australia and their native country there has been some unrest in the past over the litany of players taken away from the Gaelic system.

Brown, however, has only been told to stay put right where he is.

"Everyone's just like, 'Dude, just don't come back' because there's so many people coming here now and they can see how great it is here and once they come here, they're like, 'I don't know if I want to go back home'.

"They realise there's a good opportunity here and it's probably a better lifestyle. So that's why everyone back home is just like, 'Make the most of the opportunity and just go for it'.

"Even if I was to come back at some stage, they know I can finish off where I started last time (in Gaelic football) and come straight back into things."

There is still plenty more for Brown to learn and accomplish in the AFL arena first, however.

Callum Brown during Greater Western Sydney's training session on February 9, 2024. Picture: Phil Hillyard

He still has only 29 games to his name and is very much focused on honing his all-round skills to go with his excellent workrate, strong mark and booming kick.

"I always say I've got the longest kick in the club. I don't know if Himmel (Harry Himmelberg) or Josh Fahey deny that or not, but I reckon I do and I reckon it's just a bit of the Gaelic background," he said.

"I always kick around the corner and argue that just gives me a bit of advantage in the long kick.

"But I'm still trying to work on fully sprinting like Lachie Whitfield, where he's just got that natural drop of the ball. I still don't have that yet, so I need to work on that rather than my long kicks.

Callum Brown in action during the R16 match between GWS and Melbourne at TIO Traeger Park on July 2, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"In my first maybe two to three years I thought there was some games where I was ready but [former coach] Leon [Cameron] and the coaches would bring me in and say, 'We want to play you, we can see you're keen but you're just not ready yet'.

"I just learned off that and realised I probably needed to do a couple more things. I started working with Sam Taylor a lot on the extra craft and fundamentals and I reckon that's where it lifted me up and brought a bit more confidence into my game."

For Brown and the Giants there has been an unashamed ambition from the start of pre-season to not shy away from the expectations placed on them in 2024 and be open about the premiership ambitions.

And their dangerous Irishman is well aware that a strong start against the reigning premiers can set those wheels in motion, early.

"Yeah, 100 per cent. We know the system now that Adam Kingsley wanted to plant in last year and I reckon it's a good opportunity for us just to maximize it this year and really go for it. And if we can play out how we did in the second half of last year throughout the whole year and through the finals, we can go a long way," he said.

"The first game doesn't really say where you're going to sit at the end of the year. But realistically, if we do win the game it could set us up perfectly for the next couple of weeks, for the next eight rounds.

"The boys will be boosted with confidence and I reckon it will definitely set us up right."