DARREN Harris makes his return to a senior coaching role in the WAFL for the first time since 2005 and can't help but be excited by what awaits Claremont in 2017 with the youth coming through topped up by some returning local products.
Harris built a career with West Perth when he arrived in the mid-1990s ending up a legend of the club going on to be a premiership captain and coach before he moved into the AFL as an assistant coach ahead of the 2006 season.
He had a successful run with the West Coast Eagles including the 2006 premiership before moving to Carlton where he spent another four years.
He returned to Western Australia in 2013 but coaching at senior level wasn’t immediately on the radar with his focus on working with Leading Teams and on his family.
However, he dipped his toe back into coaching the last two years guiding the WAFL State team to wins over South Australia and Tasmania, and he feels the time is right now to coach again in his own right in the competition.
When Michael Broadbridge stepped down at the end of 2016, Harris put his hand up to coach Claremont and was appointed for 2017 and beyond. He couldn’t be more buoyant about the talent he has at his disposal.
Claremont might have missed the finals last year, but the Tigers did lose eight games by eight points or less and it could easily have been so different if some of those results went the other way.
Now coming into 2017, Tom Lee, Nick Winmar and Jesse Laurie are former Claremont players returning to the club to add some quality and experience while Anthony Morabito (Fremantle) and Charles Le Fanu (Subiaco) are two other more than handy recruits.
Those additions are exciting and so is the retention of the likes of Jye Bolton, Jake Murphy, Beau Maister, Mitch Andrews, Tom Ledger, Ian Richardson, Jack Bradshaw, Matthew Davies and Ryan Neates.
But it's the young talent coming through that Harris is most looking forward to being in charge of including Jeremy Goddard, Bailey Banfield and Matt Guelfi who will be given their chances to shine.
"When you win a reserves grand final and colts grand final you know that you have enough talent, it's just whether or not the age of the talent gets complemented. To pick up a few more mature-aged player has been good because we have 35 to 40 players who are 20 or younger, which is a really young list. We're really happy with the talent and the ins we've got," Harris told wafl.com.au.
"When you think that Ryan Lim is in our leadership group and he's only 21 years of age and then you have blokes like Bailey Rogers who is making his way through, Matty Guelfi is a fantastic talent and Bailey Banfield is another one, you get an understanding of how exciting our young talent is.
"You throw in Morgan Davies and a host of other 18 and 19-year-olds, and we have a lot of quality kids. We just have to make sure they get the opportunity to perform. Jeremy Goddard had 44 hit outs and competed really well in his first game in the ruck for us so we are blessed with the kids we have coming through."
The return of star forward Lee after his time with his St Kilda in his second stint at an AFL club is a significant one for Claremont.
He kicked 60 goals back in the premiership year of 2012 so is a big signing for the Tigers as is the return of Laurie and Winmar who had previously been on AFL lists as well.
"They are all just so highly respected at the club so to bring them back, straightaway from the first night they feel like they are home," Harris said.
"I reckon those three blokes have really given the place a lift and it just shows to the rest of the playing group how important it is to have that loyalty to be able to come back after going away and having a real crack at their careers. It's great they are able to come back to the club that they love so everyone is a winner there."
Another arrival at Claremont for 2017 that Harris is looking forward to coaching is Le Fanu.
He played 44 games and in two premierships at Subiaco before stepping out of the WAFL in 2016, but wanted to return this season and Harris couldn’t be happier to accommodate that.
"We are rapt with him. He has had a bit of an interrupted pre-season and didn’t start til late, but he is just a competitor," he said.
"He competes really hard but he is also just a great person. He is really good mates with Tommy Lee so I reckon he would feel already like it's his club. He is another mature-aged player who brings great competitiveness and big-game experience to our group."
Another recruit that could end up paying dividends for the Tigers down the track is Morabito who arrives after an injury-ravaged career with Fremantle.
Harris won't be pushing him, but is already impressed by his attitude and professionalism.
"Mora is going well. I think he had a really quick phase of improvement and then he has plateaued a little bit, but we have said to him from the start that it's a longer term, big picture proposition for us. It doesn’t have to happen overnight," he said.
"He is chipping away and he has great knowledge about the game so he's been able to add a bit to our group already and I know the young players who have been in rehab with him have found him to be an absolute professional."
Now Claremont is getting ready to take on East Fremantle at East Fremantle Oval this Saturday in Harris' first WAFL game in charge since the Round 23, 2005 win he coached for West Perth over Perth.
After pre-season can seem to go forever, the season has now sneaked up on him but Harris is confident his team is ready to go and their focus isn’t on the opposition or what's happened before, it's all on how to perform at their best together in 2017.
"The pre-season does seem to go a while but all of a sudden the season is now upon us and we're into Round 1," Harris said.
"You almost feel like you still have so much to do, but I'm sure once we are out there and playing we'll see that the boys have prepared well enough. We are still just getting to know each other really but it's been really positive.
"I haven’t really talked much at all about the opposition, or much about the history. I've said to the lads that the coaches and players who have been there in the past have all tried their absolute best, so we are here to talk about the now and what we can do going forward.
"The players have just been focused on session by session as boring as it sounds, and they are just looking forward to the season starting and seeing where they are."