Dockers’ big man Matt Taberner has cemented himself as a key fixture in Fremantle’s forward line this season. Speaking to AFLPlayers.com.au, the Victorian explains that his AFL dream almost never got off the ground.
Matt, you were recruited from the Murray Bushrangers in the 2012 Rookie Draft – can you tell me a little bit about your journey to the AFL? Was it a conventional pathway?
Not really, no. When I was 16 and 17, I played in the TAC Cup and so as an 18-year-old I was hoping to get drafted. I didn’t think I was a big chance and, in the end, I wasn’t picked. After that I went back and played local football at Myrtleford in the Upper Murray Football League. I was playing some pretty good football there and then the Murray Bushrangers asked if I could come back to play some games late in the season as a 19-year-old. From there, Fremantle got in contact with me and asked if I could come over and train for the Rookie Draft. I trained in Perth and was fortunate enough to get picked up.
You spoke about missing out when you were 18. That must have been a big source of motivation?
At the time, I didn’t think I was a good chance of getting picked up. I thought that it was probably a little bit out of reach. But, as I started playing some good football at local level and then when I went back to the Murray Bushrangers, the prospect of getting picked up started to become more real. It was definitely a big driver and when I went over to Fremantle to train, where there were no guarantees (of getting drafted), motivation was really high.
How did you feel about the prospect of moving across the country to play?
I welcomed it. I wasn’t from Melbourne – I was a couple of hours out of Melbourne in Bright – so I would have had to move anyway and I was pretty excited about the opportunity, to be honest. It was pretty easy to adjust to being in Perth since it’s a smaller city and easy to get around. As well as that, I was drafted along with a lot of other interstate players so you can sort of bounce with each other on the weekends – that made it very easy.
You’re at the start of your seventh season and you’re having a bit of a purple patch to start the year. Are you happy with how things are going?
As a team, I think we’re playing some great footy – we’ve definitely shown better signs than last year. Individually, I think I’m playing some pretty consistent footy, but there have been some games where I definitely could have capitalised a bit more. There’s definitely still improvement in me, but the signs are good, particularly in the forward line. We’ve got some new faces and I think we’re working really well so far after only a limited amount of games with each other. It’s going really well.
You mentioned those new guys – names like Jesse Hogan and Rory Lobb. How have you found the chemistry between the three of you in the forward line?
It was never going to work easy from the start – it was going to take some time. But, the signs are already there that it’s working well. Jesse missed a lot of the pre-season so we weren’t able to train too much with him. Given that we are all tall forwards, we sort of know where we like the ball kicked and we can understand each other in terms of leading patterns and stuff like that. It is pretty easy to work with those guys; we’re really open and honest and give each other feedback in the right sort of way.
You signed a two-year contract at the start of the year, extending to at least the end of 2021. You must be confident about the direction that the club is headed in?
Yeah, definitely. I think we’ve got a great balance in terms of the older guys and our really good young players who are coming through. I think the future is definitely looking bright but we’re not going to get complacent. We need to do the work and, as you’ve seen this year, the AFL is really even across the board. It doesn’t just happen – you’ve really got to put in the work – but it’s a stepping stone from there, I think.
You mentioned before about capitalising on goal. In the media there’s been a bit of criticism directed towards you from former players and journalists around goal kicking – even though you’ve had a career best start to the year. Do you listen to any of that, or is it just background noise?
I definitely listen to it a little bit. At the end of the day, it’s my job to finish the work for the team and to convert my opportunities. It’s been frustrating at times, but I know that as long as I’m getting those opportunities, it will come. I’m working really hard on it during the week. Even on the weekend (against the Bulldogs), I didn’t have my best game, but the two set shots I did have at goal, I kicked really well. It’s definitely something I’ll improve.
Who do you work with on that? I assume it’s your forward line coach but is there anyone you look to for advice?
I take a little bit from a few coaches. For me, there are a few factors – the ball drop and getting momentum through the kick, and also sticking to my routine. I think that earlier in the year, I was rushing my shots a bit. I wasn’t taking my time and I ended up missing them. That’s the main focus area. We record all our shots at training on film – it’s about analysing it yourself and going through your mental preparation as well.
WA teams obviously have to travel greater distances than other clubs in the league. How does it affect your preparation and how do you manage it as a club?
It’s something we’ve really focused on this year because we haven’t been competitive on the road the last few years. It’s something we highlighted and want to get better at. In terms of preparation – it’s doing everything during the week to make sure you get on the plane fresh. Being a WA team, we usually fly out two days before a game, rather than one day. You’re sleeping in a different bed, it’s just getting comfortable, making sure you get a good sleep that first night and doing all the little things. The recovery, the ice baths, so you can give yourself the best opportunity to go out and perform. At times, you’re going to be playing in a hostile environment, with the opposition crowd, so you’ve got to be prepared for that.
The club moved into new facilities at Cockburn last year. Do you think it’s made a difference to the team’s performance? I know there was a bit of debate at the time about the consequences of moving the club’s base away from the heart of Fremantle. How have you found the transition?
It’s been pretty seamless. The facilities are a great bonus, but at the end of the day, they’re not going to get the work done, we have to go in and train hard. Not a huge amount has changed in terms of proximity; it’s only 15 to 20 minutes out of Fremantle. It’s important to keep the connection with Fremantle alive but the Cockburn community has really embraced us out there as well.
Finally, what do you do to keep a level head outside of football?
I try and keep pretty relaxed during the week – go to the beach, engage in study off the field, read a bit. I’m doing finance and economics at university – I’ve probably done close to 16 units, so I’m getting towards the end of that. I’ve just started surfing as well, at Trigg Beach, which is about 40 minutes from Fremantle, so I’ll see how that goes. We’ve got a bit of a crew that go, there’s about five or six of us, so it’s going well. I’ve got a pretty good balance at the moment.
Thanks for your time, Matt. Good luck for the rest of the year.
No worries, thanks.