Sport AFL Jonathan Brown: larrikin, hard man, champion

Jonathan Brown: larrikin, hard man, champion

Jonathan Brown on Monday with wife Kylie and children Olivia and Jack.
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In the end, Jonathan Brown ran through one too many metaphorical brick walls.

Brown retired on Monday after a third head knock in 12 months, leaving the AFL with three premierships, three club best-and-fairest awards and a Coleman medal.

The bullocking 32-year-old is often painted as the country boy done good, but the Brown legend is more complex than that.

It’s hard to put into words the sense of expectation that filled the Gabba every time the ball pinged into the Lions’ forward line throughout the peak of Brown’s career.

With vice-like hands and eyes only for the ball, there was a good chance Brown would clutch the Sherrin if it was anywhere near his general vicinity.

A showstopper goal would so often follow.

Being helped off the ground for one last time after receiving a knock to the head earlier this month. Photo: Getty
Being helped off the ground for one last time after receiving a knock to the head earlier this month. Photo: Getty

It’s equally hard to describe Brown’s leadership and devotion to the Lions, which included the 1999 father-son selection twice turning down cashed-up offers to join Collingwood.

He led with actions – clutch goals and the trademark swagger – although an expletive-laden rev-up speech delivered as captain of Victoria in the 2008 Hall of Fame tribute match was one for the ages.

He owned big moments and big games.

He intimidated opponents – in a physical sense and his ability to grab a game by the scruff of the neck and drag the Lions over the line.

He was tough. When Brown was riding a bike in 2012 he was collected by a car, but walked away – the vehicle came off second best.

Coupled with the knockabout larrikin persona, this made the Warrnambool product a cult hero in Brisbane – even for many of its inhabitants that had little time for AFL.

It was his ruthless attack on the football and flagrant disregard for personal safety that earned him on-field fame at an age when most key forwards are still struggling with the step up.

Brown had celebrated three AFL premierships before his 21st birthday, but it was a chest mark in 2002 that arguably defined his career.

Running with the flight of the ball, Brown turned his peripheral vision off and launched blindly into a pack charging the other way.

“Wayne Carey would be proud of that one,” coach Leigh Matthews remarked at the time.

Brown’s bashed-up body needed to be carefully managed because of this approach.

Glory days: with Michael Voss in 2004. Photo: Getty
Glory days: with Michael Voss in 2004. Photo: Getty

But after playing ten and a half seasons in this fashion, it finally came unstuck in round one of 2011 when he was accidentally kneed in the head by Fremantle defender Luke McPharlin – in a marking contest of course.

It looked bad. Really bad.

The diagnosis of multiple facial fractures confirmed as much, although you wouldn’t know it if only reading a transcript of the interview Brown gave shortly after.

“They had to reconstruct my face. Get all the bones line up. But from what I gather the surgery was pretty straightforward,” he said.

“It probably affects my footy the least out of all the injuries I’ve had, because I don’t run on me face.”

Unfortunately it proved to be the first of many heavy blows to the head that forced Brown to bow out after 256 games – on doctor’s orders rather than his own terms.

The last survivor of Brisbane’s golden era will miss the game, but enjoy the chance to spend more time with a young family.

Should he want it, a career in the media beckons.

Brown was always informative but entertaining. He had time for fans.

In the words of Hawthorn captain Luke Hodge, he was always happy to have a beer “probably more than anyone else”.

Never to the detriment of the club he put his body on the line for so many times though.