Anthony Bruhn is making the round trip from one side of Port Phillip Bay to the other three times a week to succeed in the Peter Jackson VFL. The 27-year-old Footscray forward has enjoyed a distinguished local football career in Melbourne’s south-east but was prepared to travel far westwards in order to take his football to the next level in 2017.
Having played in the Mornington Peninsula Nepean FL since 2010, Bruhn took some advice from Frankston YCW teammate and current Bulldogs player Anthony Barry last year and decided to see what he could achieve in an elite environment.
The teacher by profession quickly found himself in the role of student, needing time to feel comfortable with the “immense” changes at Footscray in terms of required body preparation and game play.
But 186cm Bruhn has now broken through for eight VFL matches and is averaging 10 disposals, three marks and almost two goals per game.
“I thought I’d be able to play at VFL level but it wasn’t anything I was driven to target in the last few years,” Bruhn said. “I’d been very career-focused and footy was an added thing in my life.
“It wasn’t until later last year when I was speaking to Anthony Barry and he was saying there’s so much more I could get out of my football. He did it (joined the VFL) at my age and he made me really start to think I could do this and that I was willing to give an enormous amount of time to get there.
“I’ve been fortunate to play in some successful teams (in the MPNFL) and I haven’t been chasing a flag for a few years. That motivation had petered away and I felt there was a lot more I could get out of myself, and it’s shown in the last eight months at Footscray. I’ve already played more games than I thought I would.”
On training days, Bruhn leaves work at the end of the fourth period of the school day and catches trains across Melbourne to VU Whitten Oval. Without that generosity from his employer, he wouldn’t make it to training on time nor arrive home at a reasonable hour given the extra off-field work expected of players while at the club.
And that’s not to mention the mental effort required at training.
“The training time was probably one of the hardest things to get used to,” Bruhn said. “We train three nights a week and having a full-time job as well is very difficult.
“But there’s also the mental expectation at training – it’s almost like you’re playing a game every single drill and you have to be switched on to what the drill’s trying to achieve. Every drill we do is based around some form of skill or team development.
“It’s been unbelievable in terms of the concepts around football that I didn’t know even existed. So much of the strategy and game play was all brand-new information to me and that’s probably why I didn’t play some early games. Once I got my head around the defensive strategies and leading patterns and increased running and all that, I’ve been able to keep my spot in the team.”
Bruhn said Footscray senior coach Steve Grace wanted him in the team as a “medium-to-tall forward who had lots of experience”, someone to provide on-field leadership for the Bulldogs’ array of developing AFL-listed talls such as Nathan Mullenger-McHugh, Tristan Tweedie and recent AFL debutant Lewis Young.
But Bruhn has proven to be more than just a guiding hand for his younger teammates. His strong marking and goalkicking ability was on show in Footscray’s 24-point victory over Werribee in Round 10 when he booted four majors, as well as in a five-goal performance in a 62-point defeat of Geelong in Round 13.
“That was a very surreal game,” Bruhn said of the clash with the Cats. “I was in awe of the facilities (at Simonds Stadium).
“While there wasn’t much of a crowd, just playing on a ground with that many seats… Coming from local footy, I’d never played on a ground where I couldn’t see a house or a field! I loved it, and as the game went on and I started to kick a few goals, the boys let me stay one-out deep in the forward line and I had more of the ball coming through me.
“Steve Grace indicated when I first met him that there were so many things they can teach me at VFL level that I can take back to local footy and he was completely right – whether it’s marking or leading, team defence or just subtle things like tackling, goalkicking, crumbing and knowing which positions to be in at the right times.
“It seems like everyone should know those things, but until you practice it hundreds of times on the training track it takes a while to develop those skills.”
Bruhn’s rapid development would indicate those long trips around the bay are paying off.
THE FAST FIVE with Anthony Bruhn
(vfl.com.au will this year ask our profiled Peter Jackson VFL players five quick questions to find out more about who they are off the football field.)
What food could you not live without?
- Rice and tuna – it’s my go-to recess/lunch meal at school. Without that, I wouldn’t be able to cope with the time demands.
If you could do anything, what would be your dream job?
- I’d probably be a sports reporter or a commentator.
What karaoke song would you sing to save your life?
- ‘Without Me’ by Eminem.
Which teammate would you want to be stranded on a desert island with and why?
- Anthony Barry, because I know him the best and he’s an electrician who’s pretty handy.
Which teammate would you not want to be stranded on a desert island with and why?
- Billy Gowers, because he’s a ball of energy and I think everyone at Footscray would go nuts if they were with him for longer than an hour.