Chris Tarrant the transformer
FIVE-time leading goalkicker. All-Australian, Anzac Day medallist and a Collingwood footballer.
Anyone with those credentials would surely be one of the most marketable, most recognised men in the AFL.
Despite his previous record, Chris Tarrant is playing the best football of his career and is almost invisible in Melbourne.
But not this week.
Tonight’s game is a genuine blockbuster between the world’s favourite team – and genuine premiership chance – Collingwood and a resurgent Fremantle.
Right now, Fremantle is as exciting to watch as anyone.
The Dockers look determined and are playing hard-attacking, skillful football.
With a win against Geelong, a close loss to St Kilda and a super effort up in Brisbane, they are the surprise packet of the competition.
Fremantle against the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba is not a game you would normally rush home for to jump on the couch.
But last Saturday it was clearly a better game than North Melbourne against Collingwood. How often in the past have you been able to say that about a game involving Freo?
The excitement of Stephen Hill, Anthony Morabito and Hayden Ballantyne, combined with the dominance of Matthew Pavlich, Aaron Sandilands and Paul Hasleby is part of the reason for Freo’s great start, but do not discount Tarrant and his backline.
Jonathan Brown and Brendan Fevola kicked only four goals between them last weekend, but more remarkable is the fact that Tarrant dominated Brown most of the night.
The obvious question is, how has this transformation occurred?
From the outside, it looked as though Collingwood could not get rid of Tarrant quickly enough.
Many were convinced he was going for the money and would enjoy the laidback lifestyle in Western Australia as much as he would the football.
Many a footballer has made a good name for himself at one club and then settled at another for good money only to fail to reach the heights he scaled at his previous home.
Tarrant has had many a knocker and, as a young man at Collingwood, made more mistakes off the field than he and his club would have liked.
Marriage, age and a new coach have done him the world of good.
Not being under the Collingwood/Melbourne microscope also helps, but ultimately Tarrant is treating football as seriously as he needs to to be one of the stars of the game.
His lack of form and subsequent trade is still a mystery to me.
No one knows why a player loses form or falls out of favour with a club, but when Essendon played against the Pies he was a regular headache for us.
His unique mix of speed, endurance and strength meant that even Dustin Fletcher had his hands full at times.
Tarrant loved getting his opponent on a fast lead, but could just as easily get up the ground and work his man over with fitness, kicking goals because he had lost his exhausted opponent.
What we do know from the outside is that his ability to kick a goal dropped off – to the point that he was spending far too much time up the ground rather than in front of goals.
It is very rare that we see clubs lose a player of Tarrant’s ability, but after he managed just 39 goals in 2006, Collingwood was definitely looking for other options.
A look at Tarrant’s assets suggest he his perfect as a full-back – good strength and commitment at the ball make him hard to beat in one-on-one contests.
Having played at full-forward, he has very good anticipation skills and knows when his opponent is about to lead.
But it is his closing speed that stops him getting beaten – even when the full-forward gets a break on him.
Combine this with long arms and he is always able to get something on to the ball to stop the forward completing a mark.
In a day and age when forwards are advantaged, Tarrant has revived his career and become if not the best stopper in the business, then close to it.
He has only allowed only seven goals against this year with only Simon Prestigiacomo and Mathew Scarlett more miserly in the key back post – and both have played far fewer games.
Interestingly, his coach went through a similar transition. After three years of frustrating injury at half-forward, Mark Harvey was all but finished.
At the start of the 1992 season, Kevin Sheedy moved him to centre half-back where he went on to win a best-and-fairest, another premiership and All-Australian selection in 1993.
Harvs often commented that the moved saved his career and allowed him to win All-Australian selection at both ends of the ground.
With the season only a third finished, Tarrant is a long way from achieving that milestone.
But if he does go on to win All-Australian selection – emulating his coach by achieving it at both ends of the ground – and help his team into the finals, he and his coach will have a lot for which to thank each other.
The transformation for team and player has been nothing but remarkable.
If they defeat the in-form team in the competition tonight, in my opinion the Dockers will become the real deal.
September in Melbourne is a totally different proposition, but beating a red-hot Collingwood in May is another step towards the glory that has so far eluded Fremantle.