Dermott Brereton once told Tayla Harris that she could be the best football player. After a 2021 horror, she arrives in Melbourne for a new start. Can she reach this potential?
Dermott Brereton snuck up to Tayla Harris at a Fox Footy season launch and casually dropped a bomb.
The Hawthorn legend told Carlton’s spearhead of the time that she could be the best football player given that she possessed such power and strength to reach the ball high in her arc that none defender could not stop him.
Witnessing this conversation firsthand was seeing famed center-forward Brereton anoint AFLW cult hero Harris, a player with competition at his feet.
Her gifts were priceless: sublime talent, huge market value, and a national profile born from her efforts to fight the social media trolls who tried to bring her down.
This offseason after a disastrous 2021 at Carlton – just 16 points and four total goals in six games – Harris has discovered it has a price.
And it was not a number that the Blues even vaguely wanted to match.
Carlton called her distracted and distracting, a divisive presence that wasn’t worth it given her diminishing returns on the pitch.
Her camp suggested Harris’ salary demands were grossly overestimated, with the 24-year-old willing to do the job to bounce back.
What happens next for Harris, now at his third club, Melbourne, intersects with one of the most intriguing storylines of the new AFLW season.
Despite all the hype and publicity about Victoria’s AFLW teams, only one of them has been able to do so in the five seasons and the four big finals (Covid wiped out the 2020 Finals series).
The Western Bulldogs held up the 2018 trophy, but Adelaide (twice) and the Brisbane Lions (last year) won three of the four flags offered.
Despite all its promises and talent, Melbourne was not successful, having only made two finals for a single victory (final qualifying victory last year against Fremantle).
This year is shaping up to be Daisy Pearce’s last hurray, and there’s no doubt the Demons have pulled it all in.
Harris arrives after Carlton happily moved her and the demons gave up a lot for Geelong’s unballist Olivia Purcell in a trade.
So Melbourne, like many AFLW teams, is struggling, like competitive debutants Richmond and Geelong, in their third and fourth seasons, respectively.
This pair exemplifies the challenges four new teams will face when they complete the 18-team competition next year.
Collingwood appears locked in and loaded, with reigning MVP Bri Davey and stars including Chloe Molloy, Jaimee Lambert and Britt Bonnici despite losing ruck Sharni Norder (née Layton).
Norder’s megawatt personality will be missed, and raises an interesting theme about the new breed of stars that the AFL knows has to eventually succeed Pearce, Erin Phillips from Adelaide and Darcy Vescio from Carlton.
The new breed is here – led by Madison Prespakis from Carlton, Nina Morrison (Geelong), Roxy Roux (Fremantle) and Izzy Huntington from the Bulldogs.
But unlike the early pioneers – Harris, Mo Hope, Norder – most are headlong, bum-up personalities who don’t yet have the marketing drive or incredible stories of their predecessors.
As Norder said, she had to fight for the AFLW because too few players were willing to show up and risk the inconvenience of additional media coverage.
Covid will be a buzzing noise in the background in the 2022 season.
Georgia Patrikios of St Kilda does not seem in a rush to get the shot, a blow given that she is new coach Nick Dal Santo’s best player.
Adelaide will cover the blow of first-team defender Deni Varnhagen, while the AFLW season will be something of a crash-test dummy for the March men’s competition as the league tries its first season of living with Covid instead of going through the country by dodging it.
Anyone who has followed the development of the five seasons of the AFLW knows that the level has risen considerably and is also fed up with defending it.
This is what it is – a very young competition making massive strides that will always never live up to an increasingly fast-paced men’s game in the eyes of its critics.
Still, consider what it will become over the next decade – a highly watchable, fully professional game with huge business opportunities for its players, clubs, and the AFL.
There is a difference between savvy fans who want to watch a little but not a lot of AFLW and middle-aged men with blinders happy to demolish the legitimacy and level of women’s competition.
As Richmond’s Hannah Burchell said this month, the new generation of fans just want to be entertained.
“It’s so heartwarming to see the growth of footy. It’s not a question of whether or not girls should play soccer anymore, ”said Burchell.
“And what’s even cooler is that young boys don’t see that as a difference. What’s great is that they come to football and don’t see it as men’s or women’s football, they just grew up with it.