AFL: Sydney Swans co-captain Callum Mills is a ‘no-frills’ star focused on getting the job done
Ask anyone who knows Sydney Swans co-captain Callum Mills – intimately or from afar – and the response will always be glowing.
Rival footballers rave about how good he is, while Swans champion Josh Kennedy was so impressed that he stood down as skipper to pave the way for Mills to become the AFL’s youngest active captain.
One of the first things Sydney recruiting guru Kinnear Beatson noted about a 16-year-old Mills when they first crossed paths almost a decade ago was his remarkable maturity and competitiveness for his age.
Where many northern-states footballers concede as teenagers they aren’t as good as their Victorian counterparts, Mills refused, to his benefit, to make such a concession.
But there’s something else everyone relays about the 25-year-old: he’s the rare star athlete who doesn’t crave the limelight.
He’s the anti-Patrick Dangerfield, if you like (and that’s not a shot at ‘Danger’, either).
“Callum’s a no-frills, get-the-job-done type of person,” West Coast great-turned-Swans assistant coach Dean Cox told News Corp this week.
“As a coach, you couldn’t ask for a better player from all aspects, whether it’s attention to detail for his own game; his work ethic to improve; or the ability to hold himself and teammates to account.
“There’s a reason he’s a young captain of our footy club.”
Mills is as difficult an opponent for journalists as he is for players not wearing red and white, something Cox knowingly chuckled about.
He’s unerringly polite but don’t expect longwinded answers, or for him to indulge in how well he’s going.
Journo, at the second attempt to try to draw a response: “But it must be pretty satisfying to sit sixth in the AFL Coaches’ Association player of the year award?”
Mills: “It’s definitely nice to be rated by coaches, because they’re a big part of the game. So, it is nice, but there’s not much, really, I could add to that, to be honest.”
Mills’ understated ways make more sense when you find out he looked up to Kennedy and fellow former club co-captains Jarrad McVeigh and Kieren Jack.
That trio share similar personality traits and are products of a magnificent Bloods culture under John Longmire.
“They were my mentors, and the people I wanted to be like,” Mills said.
“They also happened to be in leadership positions, so I’m very honoured to be in that same position now.
“I think (our personalities) are just our natural tendencies. I’m not a massive one for that sort of stuff. Your role models do sort of shape who you are as well.”
The captaincy has predictably suited Mills, alongside heralded duo Luke Parker and Dane Rampe.
Club insiders describe a person who will lead by example with his actions but not hesitate to pull a teammate – young or old, experienced or not – into line if required.
But any potential for Mills, who wears the No.14 made famous at the club by Bob Skilton and Paul Kelly, to come across as intimidating or unapproachable is offset by his ability to “be a lad” just as comfortably.
As for on the field, any frustration Swans fans and SuperCoach addicts felt at Mills being kept mostly in defence for his first five seasons wasn’t shared by the man himself.
Longmire told Mills he was needed in the backline more than anywhere else throughout that period, and he accepted the explanation without protest.
He even thanks Longmire now for the football education it afforded him.
“Learning the defensive aspects of the game definitely helped me throughout my career, because I definitely know what it’s like being a defender when the ball is coming straight out the middle,” Mills said.
Mills is a fully fledged star midfielder these days since moving in full-time at the start of last season, even though his job description is wide and varied.
He won’t tell you that, but his AFLCA award ranking this year and All-Australian short-listing last season are all the evidence anyone needs.
Mills also joins Andrew Brayshaw, Jack Crisp and Ben Keays as the only four players in the competition to average at least 25 disposals, five inside 50s and five tackles in 2022.
What makes him a rarer species is his willingness to ‘shapeshift’ into whatever Longmire wants him to be on game day or from quarter to quarter.
That meant returning to defence to blunt a rampaging Richmond last week. Some games it means wearing the opposition’s best on-baller closely, while still providing an offensive punch.
“When you’re younger; you want to play as well as you possibly can and try to get a game and stuff like that,” Mills said.
“But the older you get; you want to be able to win football games. However the team needs me to play on a certain day is what I’m happy to do, because, at the end of the day, I want to win football games.
“I don’t want to be a good player in a bad side. You want to play in a successful team.”
Originally published as AFL: Sydney Swans co-captain Callum Mills is a ‘no-frills’ star focused on getting the job done
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