Former Cats star Taylor wants to bring cultural change to Geraldton footy league

Headshot of Reuben Carder
Reuben CarderGeraldton Guardian
Email Reuben Carder
Harry Taylor taking a break from a busy work day in Geraldton to walk along the boardwalk.
Camera IconHarry Taylor taking a break from a busy work day in Geraldton to walk along the boardwalk. Credit: The Geraldton Guardian

After battling through 13 gruelling pre-seasons in his decorated AFL career, Harry Taylor is enjoying a new pace and new challenges on the cusp of another, but markedly different, footy season.

Right up there is the task of steering a cultural change in the hometown league where it all started.

For a newly retired AFL player used to the high-stakes and often rough-and-tumble physical world of the game’s elite system, Taylor is surprisingly soft-spoken.

Back living in Geraldton, the new Great Northern Football League operations manager is firm and forthright.

He is determined to start working on how the GNFL culture can improve, and bringing lessons he learnt at the top tier of the sport back to the grassroots game as the league gets set to celebrate its 60th year. And for Taylor, it’s not always the high-flying marks or physical battles that make the difference.

In a competition far removed from the AFL, where enormous full-time salaries are the norm, Taylor says what will help the GNFL thrive is strategic thinking and soft skills to create a culture at clubs that attracts and keeps players around.

“The culture is the most important thing,” he said. “Especially when you can’t pay players or staff the amount you might think they deserve, you need to have some other point of difference.

“Culture is one thing you can control.

“Rather than trying to fight for survival, thinking ‘we need more sponsors and more players’, think about the environment you’re creating.

“Create positive cultures within the clubs, with the end goal being you have more players who want to play and stay around at your club for longer.”

Taylor said he would be “proud if that were to happen”, and was looking beyond just operational duties in helping create a flourishing league.

Taylor said other aspects of his work in Geraldton included working to improve the development pathway from the local league to East Fremantle, and helping out the Mid West Academy of Sports with junior athletes, primarily footballers. He said he was enjoying training with Northampton ahead of the GNFL season after 13 years away, and sharing the experiences local players had of finishing up the work week before going for a run-around.

“I’m really enjoying going to training on a Wednesday or a Friday after doing a solid day’s work,” he said.

“That is, I’m sure, the sentiments of a lot of players, female and male.

“Something I look forward to is driving up the highway to Northampton to be able to run around after a full week.”

Taylor said growing up on a farm and having hardworking parents and grandparents helped him develop a strong work ethic.

He worked as a bricklayer to build muscles before being selected as a mature-age draftee, and said he still did occasional jobs at the local brickworks.

When asked what he missed most about being in the AFL system, the former Geelong defender said the intense preparation along with one-on-one contests with some of the AFL’s best forwards were up there.

But on the other hand, quiet flights home after a bad loss, introspection and staring at the ceiling for hours after a defeat were some of the things he didn’t miss.

“Those parts of the job, fortunately, I didn’t have to do too often,” he said.

The GNFL’s season launch is on tonight. The 2021 season, marking the league’s 60th anniversary, starts on the Anzac Day long weekend.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails