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Tayla Harris clears air over ‘frustrating’ Carlton axing

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She had just officiated her first nuptials as a wedding celebrant on this particular Friday in November.She managed to quickly change clothes in the car, but Harris wasn’t worried about first impressions because she already felt confident and accepted at her new club Melbourne.“The wedding had been booked in for a while and the club said ‘no problem get there when you can get there’,” Harris reflects.“I didn’t have time to do anything other than get changed. I walked in and lots of people commented ‘ooh looking good’. “From the day I got there everyone was incredibly welcoming. I was definitely nervous to meet everyone but I’ve done all I can to gain respect and maintain respect. I’m just working hard.”Harris is only 24 but has a raft of intriguing layers, apart from being a much-talked about footballer, she pursues many interests outside of AFLW.Unpacking the timeline of her jobs and passions of course starts with sport.She has played for Brisbane, where she grew up, Carlton and now has been recruited by Melbourne, and has become a boxing champion with two Australian titles under her belt – middleweight and super welterweight.She then undertook a six-month course to become a wedding celebrant.Projects and passionsAmong other things, she collects graded Pokemon cards, is rapidly gathering body tattoos, proudly calls herself a Seinfeld devotee due to her mum always having it on the TV, is about to launch self-service dog washing in Melbourne dog hot spots and has invested in property after recently buying a second house in Perth.“Property was something I was obsessed with when I was younger,’’ Harris says.“For no apparent reason, it was just something I decided when I was 12 that I would mow the lawn for Nan and Pop for $20 and I’d take it and say I’m going to buy a house with this. “I bought my first property in Brisbane when I was 21 and I took Nan and Pop to see it before tenants moved in and they said ‘you were always going to do this’. “I was just obsessed with saving and did little jobs around the house. I worked since 12 at the bike shop with the bike mechanic. I always say I’ll give it a go and if it works out then so be it.”Harris has two border collies named Beans and Elaine, in tribute to the Seinfeld character, plus other stars Kramer, Jerry and George tattooed on her body. Beside it is a picture of the Queen and her mantra, “never complain, never explain”, which she says helped her through the tough time between moving clubs.Another tattoo features images of her mum and dad, Lisa and Warren, plus their handwriting with quotes from them. There’s also the phrase “fortune favours the brave” which she inked after moving from Brisbane to Melbourne in 2017 and also when she took the ring for her first boxing fight. The newest tattoo is “oxymoron” in letters across her fingers. “I’m contradicting in a sense and I like the idea of it,’’ Harris says. “I play footy, I box and I’m a wedding celebrant. That’s so random and that’s why I love it and it’s just an idea I had and I went with it. Often when things are a little bit obscure you shy away from it but I’m not that way inclined.”She says becoming a wedding celebrant was appealing because you’re never “going to have a bad day because you’re enjoying people’s best day”. “It’s something I won’t take on full time but I’m really enjoying it so far and I’ll see what comes of it. “Playing footy isn’t going to set me up for life and that’s fine because I play for the love of the game. “Some other tattoos are just random but a new one is ‘to be kind is powerful’. “I was looking forward to getting that when lockdown finished. That’s everything to me. “I don’t mind if I don’t succeed in footy on the weekend or whatever but as long as I maintain that I was a kind person through the week then I’m pretty fine with life.“The Queen’s words: never complain, never explain. I got this when I moved clubs. “One of my mentors said I need you to google it because in the midst of it, it was distressing. It makes total sense, you never see her getting out there saying don’t talk about my sons like that.”Online hateEveryone thinks they know Tayla Harris after her response to online trolls went viral in 2019 in the infamous episode now known and immortalised in bronze as The Kick. A photo of her kicking a footy prompted sexist and sexually violent abuse online which she took a stand against. A documentary is being made about her, originating from that time, with cameras still rolling for Amazon Prime and due to air this year.But she is clearly more than just a role model in the true sense, she is an intelligent, hard working and honest athlete. “A lot of people assumed it was this horrific time in my life but it was a really interesting time and I learned a lot as a 21 year old,’’ Harris says. “I became a better person for it.“I’ve been very realistic about my role in the community and the role that I have that’s incredibly important for young people to look up to. The reason I try my best not to have negativity come my way is so young people can aspire to be that.”Carlton exitThe period where Harris’ resolve was firmly tested came in May when reports emerged she wanted more pay at Carlton and the club questioned her dedication to the game.Her high profile exit from the Blues dominated AFLW coverage in the off-season.She stayed relatively quiet through it all but is keen to clear the air.“Disappointing is the word. You would hope your workplace could keep private information private but this is the footy world and things get out there,’’ she says.“But I think inaccurate contract discussion is frustrating because it doesn’t reflect the reality. “It’s part of the industry and that’s OK, the frustrating part was the dig at my reputation or my character is more the point. The thing I can feel comfortable with is that those close to me know what I’m about and who I am and it’s yet another reason to make sure I just worry about me and my people.“I look back and can be thankful it all happened. Of course it was uncomfortable in the moment and it was distressing and disappointing and upsetting and all of those things. But now I look back and think, here I am in the best condition, in the best mental space, feeling better than ever and in fact loving football for the first time in a long time, and looking forward to the season and loving this group. I can be happy that it all happened the way it did.”Harris says she underestimated the toll of Covid and the impact of lockdowns on being apart from her close-knit family. She grew up in the northern suburbs of Brisbane and was only five when she played her first game of footy, as a fill-in with her older brother Jack’s team. She continued through junior footy with the Aspley Hornets and was the only girl in a boys’ league.“I wouldn’t have thought anything really went wrong,’’ she says of Carlton.“It was just timing. Covid was incredibly tough and impacted me way more than I realised in the moment. Not being able to see family, losing all my jobs (boxing and weddings), all my income. Everyone felt it. “What I produced last season, as much as it wasn’t up to the standard of my previous seasons, I’m proud that I even had the mental capacity to play because it was tough.“Disregarding everyone’s external opinion, those close to me are happy with the fact that I was able to take the field at all.“Now I’m looking forward to the ability to take the field without that pressure of everything else going on in life. Everything is looking a bit more optimistic now. I’m in a much better place mentally.”The other theories that Harris wants to dispel is that she isn’t close with her former teammates – she and the Blues girls catch up often – and that she was at one point considering quitting the game.“I’ve never quit anything in my life,’’ Harris said. “There was no big dramatic tantrum ‘I’m going to quit’ situation. “In that moment I was absolutely focused on boxing and I couldn’t afford the energy to go into that stuff hence why my silence probably frustrated the media.“My key in life is to intently listen as opposed to wait for your turn to talk. I’ve found that every single time I do that something amazing has come from it. I refuse to let negativity creep in anymore. It makes for a sad life.”Naturally it hurt to be told by Carlton that she was no longer required and she admits there’s a small part of her that hopes they regret their decision.Looking forwardKnowing she was looking for a new home, there was only one other club she wanted to play for, and that was Melbourne, to be a teammate of players like Daisy Pearce and learn from a coach like Mark Stinear. She has already lost 6kg, and says she feels better in a power suit than ever before, and couldn’t be happier in her new surrounds. With so many strings to her bow she wants to be a valuable asset to all that she takes on. When season 2022 kicks off this month she intends for her game to do the talking.“I’ve never felt the need to prove a point to anyone,’’ she says. “The only person that I would like to do well for is myself at this point and I think it’s important to make sure that I have that outlook on football. “If I have given absolutely everything to preparation which I have, then whatever the result is and whatever I produce this season, however I play, I’m happy with. Whether it’s to anyone else’s standards I’ve done everything I can. “My own standards are high so I’ll push for that. Since I’ve got to love and know this group, including all players and staff, I will absolutely do everything for them and be the best teammate and club person I can for my Melbourne teammates. That is another layer I will compete with in the back of my mind.“To be honest I’m the most excited to see how I go because I know I literally couldn’t have done more.“At 24, for the first time ever I’ve understood what training hard and with intensity and consistency means. You can only ever understand that with age. It’s nothing to do with changing clubs or anything, or where I’m at, it’s purely based on maturity and getting older and learning more about myself and my body and what I can handle. “Playing in my sixth AFLW season you can train harder and more than your first, naturally, so I guess it’s all been a perfect storm with where I’m at now.”



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