Angus Brayshaw took his turn. He walked to the front of the room to the cheers and groans of his teammates.
In the era of mindfulness, vulnerability and story telling as coaching styles, Simon Goodwin had asked his players to reveal a moment they had taken a risk.
He called up Brayshaw to tell his story.
It was the fifth hole at Royal Melbourne, he explained. He was playing with Dom Tyson and his older brother who is now a soldier in Afghanistan and really not that interested in golf. Brayshaw had a terrible first four holes and considered walking off the course to do something more productive, like sitting on the couch.
But, he said, they kept on. The fifth on the west course is an elevated green. The pin was set at the front. Hit the ball a metre short and you are back down the hill, go too long and you are wasting putts.
“I had the seven iron in my hand. I thought, ‘Do I risk falling short with the eight iron? If I’m short, I am gone.’ I took a risk. I took the eight iron.
“It came out purely.”
The ball hit the green, pitched, rolled and dribbled in. Hole in one.
The trio screamed and jumped about. Other members looked across at the commotion and one came over to join the celebration. He was a Melbourne member – who’d have thought a Melbourne member at Royal Melbourne? – and took a photo for them.
By the time he stood in front of the group that day to tell them his story Brayshaw had already told each of the boys about his hole in one. He wore his golf glove to the club the next day and carried his eight iron around just so he could really get into character to tell the story.
“The boys loved it,” Nathan Jones said. “He hadn’t shut up about it since it happened and then he told the story and it went for 20 minutes.”
Goodwin figured he knew what he was getting into when he called up Brayshaw but equally the story could have gone anywhere. For instance, he might have taken a risk and told the boys about his career playing the bagpipes at school for three years. In the rip-you-for-a-bad-haircut world of an AFL football club, revealing that kind of information would have definitely been a risk, but it was also a true story.
“I played bagpipes for a few years a school and I liked it, but I had to give it away because of footy,” Brayshaw said.
“Haileybury is a big school and we had pipe bands and they started to do that on weekends and asked me to play on Saturdays, but footy was on and I had to choose, so it was a no brainer.
“With my [Scottish] name and my old man got married in a kilt, I think he was keener on me playing than I was. He pushed me into it.”
His dad, Mark, the chief executive of the coaches’ association, former board member at North Melbourne where he played footy, and former CEO of Richmond, laughs that he would often nudge Angus into those moments that took the shy boy out of his comfort zone.
“He played the bagpipes really well but if you held a gun to his head now he wouldn’t play them,” he said.
“He speaks well and is confident, but you ask him to interact and he is crushingly shy. He hates having to approach people. When he was younger I sent him to buy the paper and he must have been 10 cents short and he came out of the shop screaming at me for embarrassing him by not having the right money.
“His brothers laugh at that still. He went right off. I still always ask him to go and get the time from someone or check us in for golf; he will wait around until his brothers come with him. He hates that stuff.”
Brayshaw has a different take. “Dad thinks he’s hilarious with that stuff. It’s not true though.”
The family of four boys are tight. Brayshaw has now been joined in the AFL by two younger brothers. Andrew likes to remind his big brother that he went earlier than him in the draft. Hamish points out that he got a better ATAR score than Angus (all got excellent ATARs).
“Andrew was in a weak draft,” Brayshaw argues. “And the ATAR is a normalised score, so it is not the raw mark. My mark would definitely have been higher. That’s all I’ve got to cling to, I have to have something to argue back to them.”
Brayshaw might have had yet another story when he rose to talk about taking a risk.
It was the story of his first day at the club. He had been drafted at No.3 to Melbourne and on his first day, Jones, the captain, who lived nearby, said he’d pick him up and give him a lift to the club.
“He rocked up in this enormous black four-wheel-drive ute with tinted windows. There’s gangsta music playing loud and he gets out in a black singlet with his tatts all shining because he’s all oiled up in the sun and he had these sunnies on and his shaved head and he comes strutting to the door,” he said. “I was terrified.”
He took a risk. He got in the car. The archetypal private school boy and the archetypal tattooed tough guy. Within minutes they were close friends.
“Apparently he was intimidated at the start – he tells this rubbish story about me picking him up the first day and he lays it on thick – but now he is like a little brother to me. We have a close bond,” Jones said.
“We hang out a fair bit and drive to training together. His dad says he is shy but he is a larrikin at the club. He is super polite and respectful but you get him on a roll and he comes up as brash.”
The affection is reciprocated.
“He loves me and let the record show I love him right back,” Brayshaw laughed. “He has been huge for me. I tell him from time to time I would not be anywhere without him. I was floating up and down and he has been consistent. He has pushed me and helped me, especially with the concussion stuff.”
Which brings us to the other most obvious risk story Brayshaw could have told: the risk of continuing to play footy despite multiple concussions that have kept him out of the game at great length.
It hardly needs retelling if you have made it this far through an Angus Brayshaw story that he has had issues with concussion. But the point of getting this far into an Angus Brayshaw story before mentioning concussion is to say that he has reshaped the narrative about himself in the past two months to be about more than just concussion. Now it is about how good a player he is, not about if he would ever play again.
“I never thought I wouldn’t get back or that I would have to give it away,” Brayshaw said.
“It’s really satisfying to be back playing. I was always sure I would get back to this level but it is good to be doing it. It’s hard then not to be out there knowing you could be helping.”
In the past two months he has proven to be an excellent player, and not just a kid with pluck who refused to give in to head knocks. He is a seriously good player.
“I was surprised that even people really close to me were surprised with how I have played [the last two months]. I feel like, ‘of course I have’, they picked me at three for a reason, they thought this is what I can do,” he said.
He has come back wearing a ninja turtle helmet that has shades of Jason Dunstall, post fractured skull, about it.
He is not sure whether the helmet has an effect on concussions but he feels better wearing it.
And just to be clear, he has the earholes cut out so his hearing is fine. He doubts anyone other than the umpire and Patty Dangerfield heard the Geelong star nominate the ruck two weeks ago when Brayshaw was foxed into giving away a free kick. The helmet had nothing to do with it.
“I would be interested to know who else knew he was rucking other than the umpire. It was nothing to do with the helmet,” he said.
“I don’t know how long I’ll wear it. I feel more confident in it. It’s funny, Jonesy headbutted me in the game at the weekend and it cut me above the eye. It’s the only time I’ve been hit since I’ve been wearing it and it didn’t stop me getting opened up, so who knows?”
Footy is all about the risks you take. And Brayshaw knows about taking risks.