OSCAR Brownless is one of the more impressive AFL draftees you’ll ever come across.
With a beaming smile, warm demeanour and excellent articulation, he makes an awesome first impression. Then as the conversation continues, you quickly sense his positive energy and infectious enthusiasm for footy — and the Cats.
Perhaps his most noticeable trait, however is his maturity.
It’s a maturity well beyond his years that won the respect of his Geelong Falcons teammates, who voted him co-captain for the 2018 TAC Cup season. It’s also a maturity that helped him through one of the toughest and most confronting times in his life.
THRUST INTO THE SPOTLIGHT
The Brownless family were in the headlines in early 2016 when it emerged Melbourne champion Garry Lyon was in a relationship with Billy Brownless’ ex-wife Nicky. It led to an emotional falling out between the two former footballers, who’d blossomed into footy media stars during their 15-year stint working together.
When the story emerged publicly, Oscar was only 15 years old and about to commence his Year 11 studies. He also had an eye on a professional AFL career in a couple of years’ time.
Things could’ve easily derailed for Brownless at that point. Instead, he got stronger and clung tight to the people who mattered most.
Nearly three years later, Brownless is set to continue Geelong’s rich history of father-son selections, which include premiership stars Gary Ablett, Matthew Scarlett and Tom Hawkins.
“I wouldn’t be here without the sort of friends I surround myself with and my family. They’re all so supportive of me,” Brownless tells foxfooty.com.au.
“It’s easy to get carried away with all the media things. You can look into it too much, but we don’t really take notice of it. We all know what we mean to each other — and that’s not going to change.
“My friendship group has helped me through everything and that’s made it easier to me to be able to forge my own career and do what I want to do.”
Few teammates have supported and worked as closely with Brownless as Sam Walsh — this year’s Pick 1 favourite and Brownless’ 2018 co-captain at the Falcons. And arguably no teammate has admired Brownless’ resilience, professionalism and work ethic through the tough times than Walsh.
“That’s the thing with Oscar. He’s had a fair bit going on and even had things to juggle things like uni this year. The way he conducted himself, it’s a credit to him,” Walsh tells foxfooty.com.au.
“That’s why he’s such a good person to be around. Everyone loves Oscar. Then to develop on-field while juggling all of that … you have a great respect for him.
“He’s one that I’ve always loved playing alongside, but to work with him from a leadership perspective this year has been an honour.”
SIGNIFICANT FAMILY INFLUENCE
As Brownless’ footy ability strengthened during difficult circumstances, so did his relationship with his family.
He says his mother Nicky is “always positive and supportive with me”, adding: “Everyone has their bad games, but in Mum’s book, I’ve never played a bad game.”
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Demons great Lyon has also been a source of great encouragement for Brownless. He’s been blown away by Lyon’s “knowledge footy brain” and appreciative of the endless advice, especially around captaincy. “Just watching the footy with him, the stuff he picks up on I don’t think many others pick up on at all,” Brownless says.
Brownless has also “become a lot closer” with his siblings, particularly his sisters Lucy and Ruby. And as Lucy’s boyfriend is St Kilda forward Paddy McCartin, Brownless has taken the opportunity to talk shop with the No. 1 draft pick, particularly because McCartin went through the same process four years ago as Brownless is experiencing now.
Then, of course, there’s his dad Billy — the 198-game, 441-goal Geelong champion who turned into a charismatic media star through his love for ‘frothies’, the famous wheel, crocodile claps and, more recently, quirky top-five lists.
Not too many kids see their dad dress up and make a fool of himself on national TV every week. Oscar, though, reckons “it’s pretty funny”.
“You get a lot of people asking: ‘What’s it like to have him as your dad?’ It’s honestly not too different from any other dad, I imagine,” he says.
“He doesn’t change too much … he’s a loveable character at home. I’ve never known any different and I wouldn’t change it if I could.”
One of Brownless’ earliest footy memories is kicking a footy with his dad in the backyard of their Highton home. It’s on that tennis court where he learnt “all my fundamentals that I still use to this day”.
Billy’s standing at the club and tight relationship with the playing group allowed him to take Oscar into the Geelong rooms on game day. The latter remembers interacting with the likes of Matthew Scarlett, James Kelly and Tom Lonergan during Geelong’s golden era of the late 2000s.
“From then on, it became pretty apparent to me that this is my dream and this is what I want to do,” Brownless says.
“It hasn’t really wavered since then. It’s still my dream and passion to this day.”
FROM DEFENDER TO BALL MAGNET
Unlike his goalsquare specialist father, Brownless is a genuine utility that can play in any of the three sections on the ground. He played primarily in defence for the Falcons during his 17th year, which earnt him a spot in the club’s thrilling drought-breaking premiership in 2017.
But the co-captain upped his output in 2018, spending more game time through the middle and on the wing. He quickly turned into one of the Falcons’ biggest ball-winners, averaging 22 disposals and seven tackles, to go with 10 goals, from his 14 TAC Cup matches.
In the middle of this year, Brownless played all four national carnival games for Vic Country. His most memorable moment came against Vic Metro on the MCG, snapping a checkside goal off one step from the forward pocket. His dad kicked a lot of goals on the MCG — 110 for all those playing at home — but perhaps none as freakish as Oscar’s in June. “It was pretty lucky, but you’ve got to take them,” Brownless says with a laugh.
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As Brownless gradually progressed up the ranks, Billy remained steadfastly supportive but also took a back seat. He’s never put any pressure on his son and lets the coaches coach.
Although one thing hasn’t changed: Billy isn’t the best footy spectator. If you thought he struggled to contain his emotions while watching Cats games, you haven’t see him at a Falcons match, as his son can attest to.
“I remember a close one against Calder Cannons in one of our knockout finals. There was a couple of shaky umpire decisions and I could hear his voice pretty loud and clear in the stand. That was pretty embarrassing,” Brownless says with a smile.
“But he’s done plenty more embarrassing things over time, so I’ve learned to deal with that as well.”
LOVE FOR THE CATS
Brownless is now on the verge of living his “ultimate childhood dream”: Representing Geelong — the club his dad gave his heart and soul for and the club Oscar has barracked for all his life — in the AFL.
He says the Cats, led by Troy Selwood and Stephen Wells, have made no promises to him but still provided great support throughout the year.
Part of that support came in January and then late August when the Cats hosted Brownless at the club. The first short stint was a footy internship as part of the AFL Academy, while the second stint was longer and initiated by player and club.
In August, Brownless was invited to train with the club’s senior list at the main sessions. Considering the club was nearing a finals campaign at that stage, these were hot, intense and “eye-opening” sessions.
“It’s easy to get lost. I know I did the first couple of times when you see (Patrick) Dangerfield running past and he laces one out to ‘Gaz’ (Gary Ablett), who twirls around and hits Tom Hawkins on the chest. You’re seeing your idols run past you and it’s a pretty amazing experience,” Brownless says.
But as exhilarating as it was to train with some of his favourite players, it was the off-field culture that resonated with Brownless the most — and made him hungrier to join the Cats.
“It’s such a well-renowned club for holding such great values both on and off the field … The club makes you a better person and a better player,” he says of the Cats.
“When you see them train and the intensity and standard they adhere to, it’s no surprise they perform so well on game day. But at the end of the day, they just love their footy. They know when to work hard but they also know how to have fun — that’s a key aspect of the environment they’ve created.”
Brownless comes from a family littered with AFL industry wisdom. He labels it an “extremely fortunate” luxury, as every piece of his footy journey puzzle — from his dad, mum and sisters to, later, Lyon and McCartin — have “helped shape me into the player I am today”.
But Brownless’ rise to likely Cat is just as much about his own character. Because without his admirable fortitude and professionalism, he wouldn’t be in the exciting draft scenario he is now.
“I’d like to think that I’ve got to where I am off my own good doing,” he says.