Tim Taranto had a world of expectation on his shoulders after being selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2016 AFL draft by the GWS Giants.
In the absence of his father, Taranto’s grandfather, Paul, was instrumental in his development, ensuring he never missed a training, game or club function and that he kept a level head.
The mild mannered boy from St. Kevins made his mark at his local club, the Mordialloc-Braeside Junior Football Club, early. Taranto was an instant ball magnet and caught the eye of Neil Jenkins, who coached the GWS youngster at junior level.
“When we had a practice match at the end of Auskick, Tim would dominate to a point where we had to implement special rules to give the other kids a fair run at the ball,” Jenkins told Aflplayers.com.au.
The commitment to the ball Taranto displays in the AFL was evident from an early age. Even at Auskick, Taranto was fearless, moving anybody that got in his way. As a seven-year-old, he would lock his eyes on the ball and everyone knew that he would end up with it.
Jenkins recalls the moment he knew that Taranto had what it took to make it in the AFL.
“We were playing a local team and being flogged by a better side. I figured out the game had gotten away from us, so I asked Tim to tag one of their best players. He ran back out there and wasn’t playing anywhere near his opponent and he refused to speak to me after the game, which was odd for him.
“His mum called me later that night saying that he had been crying since he got home about how upset he was because he didn’t do his job and let the team down.
“He was never a ball hog but he could do it all himself so easily. He learnt what footy was all about that day and from then I knew he could be something really special.”
Jenkins credits that day as the day Taranto turned himself from a skilled kid into a genuine footballer but Aussie Rules wasn’t the only sport he excelled in as a junior.
Taranto was also an elite junior basketballer, representing Victoria at under-16 and under-18 level, where he was a bottom aged player and still managed to excel despite the height and age disadvantage.
It’s his basketball background that Jenkins thinks has boosted Taranto’s footballing ability and the commitment he showed as a junior will translate well in his professional career.
“He is always intercepting handballs, swiping them out of the air or knocking it loose and once the ball is loose he seems to know which way it will bounce and always has.
“He never takes his eye off the ball, you see most players in the league now when they’re spoiling or taking a mark they have their eyes shut like they’re scared of the footy but Tim was fearlessly committed to the footy which is why he ends up with so much of it.”
Jenkins has high praise for the tough midfielder, comparing him to 2015 Brownlow Medalist, Nat Fyfe.
“Tim might not reach the same heights as Fyfe but I think he has the strength, skills, game sense and ability to move forward like Fyfe. He’s definitely got it in him to be as good as Fyfe.”
“If Tim stays injury free I think that by the time he’s matured as a 23-year-old he’ll be in the top three or four players in the league.”
The future Giant wasn’t the only standout in his junior league.
While Taranto was always the best player for each team he played in, the South Metro Junior Football league was also home to another future AFL player that went head-to-head with the Round 8 Rising Star nominee.
Jenkins said Carlton draftee Cameron Polson was the only player who came close to matching it with Taranto. While the Ginats selected Taranto with pick two, Polson was selected by Carlton with pick 59 in the 2016 National Draft.
“They always had great head-to-head battles but Tim bulked up a bit quicker than Cam and gave him a bit of an edge.”
The success of the young midfielder wasn’t without a lot of behind the scenes work. Coach Jenkins enlisted the help of good friend Joe Errante who took a keen interest in the budding star at under-14 level.
Errante worked with Taranto on every night off from training, doing running and skills sessions, recording all of his stats and giving him a full match report and debrief after every game.
“We both took a special interest in Tim because it was clear that he was going to be a high achiever, we weren’t sure where he was going to end up but we could tell he was destined for great things.”
Jenkins is incredibly proud to be a part of what he thinks will be a fantastic career.
“When the Giants picked him up, I was ecstatic because I thought he’d get to play plenty of finals early on but I was concerned about whether he was going to be able to break into that elite midfield they have. But, to his credit, he has worked hard and carved himself a role in a great side.”
And while Taranto has relocated to Sydney and is enjoying the bright and fast-paced life, he isn’t forgetting his roots.
“He loves it up there, which is so great to see but we still stay in touch. He’s loving the challenge and we’re loving watching him.”
RISING STAR NOMINEES IN 2017:
Round 1 – Sam Powell-Pepper (Port Adelaide)
Round 2 – Ryan Burton (Hawthorn)
Round 3 – Brandan Parfitt (Geelong)
Round 4 – Andrew McGrath (Essendon)
Round 5 – Eric Hipwood (Brisbane)
Round 6 – Caleb Marchbank (Carlton)
Round 7 – Sam Petrevski-Seton (Carlton)
Round 8 – Tim Taranto (GWS)