Coming into her fourth grand final when she takes the field on Sunday, Tayla Harris is looking at those previous experiences on the biggest day to drive her on further.
Having played in three grand finals for Brisbane, Carlton, and Melbourne in the AFLW, the Demons star is still yet to taste premiership success.
Playing for Brisbane during their first season, Harris was a part of the team that lost to the first-ever premiers Adelaide in 2017 at Metricon Stadium. After her first year at the Lions, she moved over to Carlton to live in Victoria for work and lifestyle reasons.
In her second season with the Blues (2019), her team made their first AFLW grand final where they faced the Adelaide Crows in front of a record crowd of 53,034 at Adelaide Oval. The Crows won comprehensively.
It was deja vu in season six when Harris was again faced with playing the Crows on Adelaide Oval on the biggest day, this time with her new team the Melbourne Demons. But the Crows closed out the dynasty, winning their third premiership in five years.
With the Crows out of the decider for season seven, Harris is focused on bringing premiership success to the Demons faithful, and Melbourne is full of finals-hardened players who only played in the last grand final seven months ago.
Speaking at the grand final press conference, Harris is very aware that her experience puts her in a special position.
“Grand finals are hard enough to get into, let alone win, so I think I’m fortunate enough to have played in them in the first place and take the experience for sure,” Harris explained.
“I think that anyone would agree that it’s the hardest thing for you to win, only one team wins and there are plenty of others that are doing everything possible to get there as well.
“I won’t be thinking about the previous ones but I’ll certainly be taking the lessons and it’s not so much game style but it’s the event and the atmosphere, it’s different.
“I feel fortunate that our group recently has been in one so we can draw on that. We are going interstate again with Adelaide last season and Brisbane this season so there are those elements as well. I love, and I think this group loves, to travel and we enjoy each others’ company, so I think that’s something we can draw upon to get the best out of ourselves.”Embed from Getty Images
With a premiership being an elusive goal for Harris in her AFLW career so far, she spoke about it being something for the group to aspire to, without it being the make-or-break of their campaign in season seven.
“A win would be something that myself and the rest of the group would be able to take with us for the rest of our lives together. I think better than having an achievement is having one with a great group of people to be around, that’s why team sports are so incredible, [but] ultimately the success we will find in other avenues as opposed to win or loss,” she said.
“The growth we’ve had as a group throughout just this season as well as last season has been pretty incredible and we will all be proud of that, but in terms of winning or losing on Sunday, that’s yet to be seen obviously.
“We hope to win as everyone does but I think provided we play the way we aspire to, which is just playing for each other and enjoying each other’s company, I think that will be enough to get the job done.”
A big talking point coming out of the weekend’s preliminary final win over North Melbourne was Harris’ fitness, after she was collected by Emma King in a collision.
Speaking about that injury, Harris says she is in no doubt to play on Sunday against the Lions.
“My shoulder has pulled up better than expected to be honest. The physios have all let me know that they probably expected worse which is an awesome thing to hear, so I’m feeling great and have no doubt that I will be able to compete at my best capacity on Sunday.”
“I’ve done shoulder injuries before and it didn’t feel any different, maybe the reaction was that I wouldn’t be able to give as much in that exact moment for my team, but it was quickly shut down when I saw every other player in the team step up,” Harris explained.
“[I’ll] do what I’m told and I’ll wait to hear and make small little adjustments. Aggravating it is the main thing that I’ll be avoiding and other than that, just waiting for direction. I’ve got a few little things to do to give myself the best chance to obviously to be 100 per cent, which I will do and I’ve already done.”
One teammate that benefited from Harris being off the field was young ruck/forward Eden Zanker, who has mainly played as a tall forward option lately with Harris and Lauren Pearce sharing the ruck time this season. Finishing the game with one point and twelve disposals, it was Zanker’s ruck prowess that helped the Dees get over the Kangaroos last Saturday.
“I had great confidence, specifically [with] Eden (Zanker) who went into the ruck, the way she just took [the opportunity] with both hands and dominated, you just love to see that.
“I think someone like Eden, who is clearly a younger player in the competition, to be able to be thrown a bit of a curveball and take it in such a great fashion was impressive and inspiring to be honest, I’ll certainly be looking at that if there’s ever a scenario where I have to do the same thing.”Embed from Getty Images
Having played football mostly through until AFLW level, Harris recalls playing in the ruck at under-15 level and why she enjoys giving the team the extra versatility by doing so at the Demons.
“I’ve always enjoyed it, I love to jump, I love to run and I think the advantage is structurally of course in there,” Harris explained.
“I think the opportunity with ‘Loz’ (Lauren Pearce) to [give her] a chop out is something that if there’s a chance to give her a bit of relief, then I’m more than happy to and I guess that’s where the opportunity came from and the idea was there. I [then] had to go and work on my fitness and come back and prove that I could get it done so that’s where we are at now.
“I’ll hopefully look forward to going up against Tahlia Hickie, who in my opinion has been an incredible development story and I like the way she can competes, so I can’t wait to see how I go and how ‘Loz’ goes.”Embed from Getty Images
Coming from Brisbane in the first AFLW season to finally facing them in a grand final, Harris admits that while it seems like it’s come full circle for her, the team and the competition are completely different from the ones she joined in 2017.
“The first thing I was thinking was at least mum and dad don’t have to pay for flights [if it’s in Brisbane], I think it will be nice and maybe sentimental in a way but not enough to think about it too much,” she said.
“But to be honest, I will be happy literally anywhere, as long as it’s a patch of grass, [I’m] happy to be with this group and against Brisbane. I actually find it funny, obviously people say I played at Brisbane, but ultimately in the first season, there was a maximum of seven games played. I’d just finished school and being a part of AFLW was an incredible thing in the first season, but no-one knew what it was or what it meant.
“[We were] going from playing footy and maybe training twice a week with what I would have thought wasn’t as much intensity, to playing on the weekend for fun and all of a sudden we are on TV, and playing for an AFL club, [it] is a pretty incredible transition.
“Then I always wanted to live in Victoria, it wasn’t about [the] Brisbane Lions to Carlton Football Club, it was Queensland to Victoria, and as we know opportunities with work present in all sorts of shapes and sizes and that was the path. Now I’ve ended up at Melbourne and I couldn’t be happier. I’m loving every second of it.”
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