“He is quite extroverted. He has probably always had those leadership qualities there.”
Gawn was unveiled as Melbourne skipper on Monday, admitting he was more “class clown” than future captain after he was taken by the Demons with their fifth selection, 34th overall, in the 2009 national draft. He battled injuries and wasn’t as focused as he should have been in recovery, having admitted to a lively, partying lifestyle, and enjoying a cigarette.
One moment resonates in the memory of club officials and McDonald. Having bobbed up in the social pages of Melbourne’s newspapers during Melbourne’s spring racing carnival in 2012, Gawn tore his hamstring off the bone two days later at pre-season training. That injury could be blamed more on misfortune than poor management, but it was a harsh lesson.Ruckmen always take time to mature, but that was true on and off the field for the 208-centimetre Gawn.
“It was more probably those little one per centers that you have got to do. He has, obviously, worked that out now and has turned out to be an unbelievable player,” McDonald said.
“There were one or two instances there where we had to sit him down and give him a few home truths. He wasn’t the only one. His personality is quite laconic. When your personality is like that, you have to flick the switch, knowing what is serious and what is not.
“A young kid, 18 or 19, still maturing, you have to give them a little bit of a leeway to work that out. It is good that he has worked that out.”
Gawn, 28, thanked McDonald, whom he described “as one of the best Melbourne captains”, and former vice-captain Brent Moloney for their tough love in the early days. He is still inspired by the late Jimmy Stynes, who presented him with his No.37 guernsey.
Now entering his 11th season, and with 120 matches to his name, Gawn said his colourful history would help him handle the job.
Coach Simon Goodwin said Gawn, the best and fairest in 2018 before sharing the award last year with Clayton Oliver, would have “empathy” for the playing group.
Gawn, also a three-time All-Australian, said he had developed as a leader, having been in the leadership group last season.
“I had been laminated the class clown when I first got drafted. It took me a while to shake that. Being able to have a jovial conversation at the same time as being able to hit that person up is almost one of my strengths now,” Gawn said.
Schooled at McKinnon Secondary College in Melbourne’s south-east, Gawn joked that he initially had found it hard to get that “private-school relationship going” when he joined the Demons.
“The guys were more Brighton Grammar but I got there eventually,” he said.
However, Gawn can now quickly flick that switch to a more serious note.
“I have been through every position available. I have played 50 AFL games in a row, I played one year when I went one VFL, one AFL for the whole season. I played one year all the way down in the VFL. I have been injured for a whole year,” he said.
“I definitely have been involved in almost everything that you can at a football club. I have been unprofessional and I have now got my habits and standards to a level that is good enough to lead a club.”
Jon Pierik is cricket writer for The Age. He also covers AFL and has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.