The Magpies backman is leaving the game with no regrets.
CHRIS Tarrant is now in a twilight zone in which each match might be his last. It exercises his mind. ''You could take it a bit further and say each training session, too,'' he rejoins. ''I feel quite sad, and in other ways I feel quite excited as well. It's a strange feeling.''
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Naturally, he reflects on the mosaic that is his 15-year career. Two weeks ago, for instance, there was his war with Buddy Franklin. ''The thing is, if you're going to run around shoulder-to-shoulder with Buddy, you're going to be the next person he kicks 13 on,'' he says. ''That's the reality.''
He says he and Franklin engaged on tacitly understood terms, and he respects Franklin, who unlike some forwards did not once appeal to the umpires. He is certain Franklin found it as stimulating as he did. ''You know you've played a game of footy. I gave some out, I copped some back,'' he says. ''Except for the result, It was perfect, it really was.''
There may yet be a sequel in the grand final. There already has been fallout. Tarrant says that in last week's semi-final against West Coast, umpires cautioned him repeatedly against the merest workaday contact. ''It was disappointing,'' he says. ''It was a bit frustrating.''
Between full-back and full-forward, Tarrant knows the score better than any other modern player. Sorties forward this season reminded him of how exhilarating it could be, but also how maddening. ''Ball's getting bombed in, defenders all over you, it's not your day,'' he says. ''I don't miss those days.''
Ditto defence. Some days, he feels on top of his job. Others, the necessary second-by-second vigilance drains him. ''You wish you could go forward, have a run around, not follow someone all day,'' he says. ''In an ideal world, you'd play half down forward, half down back.''
Simplistically, that could be Tarrant's career. Even teammates talk wondrously of the brilliant but feckless forward who left for Fremantle in 2007 and returned four years later as an impassable defender and solid citizen. Says Dane Swan: ''He used to be a boy from the country with tracksuit pants and Rip Curl, but now he's all Gucci and Dior and Louis Vuitton.'' And Harry O'Brien: ''I've never seen anyone have such a shift in such a short space of time.''
Tarrant says that is too, well, black-and-white. He admits to ''areas that needed addressing'' in his first incarnation at Collingwood, but says his reputation was falsely built on ''three or four'' incidents and a reluctance to do media.
He adds context. ''I moved out of home at 15 to chase my dream of playing AFL football. It's incredibly young,'' he says. ''I didn't know where I was going in life. I don't think any 15-year-old does.'' He was drafted to Collingwood at 17 and grew up at the club, leading a life that he says was fun, but ''surreal''.
Tarrant turned 32 this week, old enough to be the father of the boy who set out from the South Mildura Bulldogs years ago. That, he says, is what has changed, above all else.
The youthful Tarrant took skyscraping marks and kicked goals. He was the Magpies' pin-up, and says it would be wrong to assume the glamour sat reluctantly with him, as it sometimes seemed. ''I loved playing as a forward, especially when I still had my jumping legs,'' he says. ''There's no greater thrill than playing in front of the Collingwood faithful and kicking goals.
''But I was an extremely shy kid. I shied away from media. I hated reading about myself. I hated people reading about me. But as you get older, you get used to it.''
He learnt hard lessons. Tarrant played throughout 2006 with chronically sore shins. ''I didn't train at all,'' he said. ''I literally could not run one lap during the week. I should have had a chunk of time off. But it's hard to tell a 25-year-old. Now I look back, I think that was a bit silly.'' His form faded, there was another ''incident'' and suddenly he was at a crossroad. Without rancour, he says, he was traded to Fremantle.
Four metamorphic years ensued. Predictably, the Perth crowds proved rugged. His shins came good, but his form fluctuated. After a stint in the WAFL, he suggested to coach Mark Harvey that he try the backline, coached by Chris Scott. It proved to be his remaking. ''I had to work extremely hard to change perceptions,'' he says. ''But I ended up leaving on really good terms.''
Tarrant returned to Melbourne not so much out of homesickness, but because his father, Paul, was ill and deteriorating. He says he was humbled to discover that at 30, Hawthorn and Carlton still were keen. But he waited for Collingwood to finish in the finals. ''Deep down, I love the club,'' he says. ''When it was taken away from me, when I watched them on TV, I still had that feeling in my guts. I still wanted to be a part of it.''
He was in Byron Bay when the Pies rang to say that they would make a place for him. ''It was the best feeling I'd had for so long,'' he says. ''The club I started at wanted me back.''
When Nathan Brown went down, Tarrant, still racehorse fit and with his closing speed intact, suddenly became pivotal. He played all bar two games last year, but was denied the premiership he craved. This year, a calf complaint restricted him to one-and-a-bit games in the first 15. He is fit now, and needed, but happy to cede his place to Lachy Keefe next year. He intends to travel, ski and see Europe in the summer, for once. He does not envisage himself as an AFL coach, but he does as a fitness and health adviser, his abiding passion and now his business. ''It's always interested me,'' he said. ''That's why I've been able to last so long.''
He is proud simply to have survived 15 years. ''Footy: you love it, you hate it, you love it,'' he says. ''People only see game day. But mentally, everything's directed at the game all week. Silly little things: how much water you drink, what meals you're having three days out, have I been walking around for too long at the shopping centre? All those things, I'm really looking forward to not having to worry about.''
He will miss most the first five or 10 comradely minutes in the rooms after a win. ''It's the best feeling,'' he says, but adds he will have no regrets, even if that flag eludes him. ''If I hadn't done everything possible, perhaps,'' he says. ''But over the last five or six years, I've done everything I can to reach that premiership.
''If it doesn't happen, that's fine. I don't need a premiership to be satisfied. I've lived my childhood dream. I've met some amazing people, friends for life. I met Lauren, my beautiful wife. I've already won. I'll leave the game really proud, extremely thankful and very happy.''