Sydney’s Oliver Florent is one of the competition’s brightest young stars but there was a chance his AFL career might not have been.
Named the Round 11 Rising Star nominee, Florent was a talented athlete and, given his father’s professional sporting career, was keen to explore other codes as a teenager, according to GWS Giants youngster and close friend, Tim Taranto.
“At one point I thought he was going to pick tennis,” Taranto told AFLPlayers.com.au.
“He was a talented tennis player and grew up in a tennis family. There was a period of time where I thought he’d follow in his dad’s footsteps but his passion was more in football.”
Florent and Taranto grew up in similar areas in Melbourne’s southeast and first met each other on the basketball court early in their teens.
That started a long friendship where the pair played with and against each other throughout the junior ranks and representative sides.
They played at Vic Metro and the Sandringham Dragons together, which resulted in a premiership in the TAC Cup alongside future first-round draftees Andrew McGrath, Will Setterfield and Jack Scrimshaw.
In the eyes of Taranto, that’s where Florent, who he always thought would make it to the AFL if he wanted, took his game to a new level.
“In the finals series with the Sandy Dragons in 2016, he really turned it on,” Taranto said.
“I can’t remember which game it was but in one of the finals, Ollie got the ball at half-back and took four bounces up the wing and dodged around three or four players.
“I just thought ‘wowee’ and he kept getting better and better. Then in the All-Stars game at the end of the season, he was the best player on the ground and I knew he’d probably go in the first round.”
Florent and Taranto were both invited to draft night in Sydney. While Taranto had a decent idea he’d end up at the Giants, he was almost certain his mate’s name wouldn’t be called out by a NSW side.
Sure enough, the Swans took Florent with pick 11 and Taranto’s mum delivered the news to the new Giant on the night.
The pair now live half an hour apart and regularly catch up when their schedules permit. They also played against each other for the first for premiership points in Round 3 this year, which was like returning to their junior days.
Off the field, Taranto always has a good time with Florent. The 19-year-old Swan is a laid-back, positive person who “tries to be funny – so I guess he is”.
And his personality hasn’t changed much since making the big time and that even extends to one of his superstitions.
“Every night before he goes to bed, he has to touch the light switch with every single finger before he turns it off,” Taranto added.
“I don’t know why he does it. He always has and I’m sure he’s still doing it.”