BY NICK GALEA
Born and raised in Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs, Harrison Nolan or as he is commonly named Harry, first got into football like many of those that have played before him; their older brother.
‘My older brother played football and just spent time watching him play. He also always wanted someone to have a kick with and it was always me,’ Nolan said.
‘I was pretty athletic as a kid, being able to run around so playing with me brother is what probably what dragged me into it.’
Growing up, Nolan started off playing AusKick before playing junior football in Seville as a six year old with his brother; who was two years older, playing three years in the Under 10s and two in the Under 12s.
Nolan then made decision in 2011 to play Under 13s for Mount Evelyn after Seville wasn’t able to field a team in his age bracket.
‘Mum wouldn’t let me play two age groups up with my older brother so I had to move and stuck there.’
Nolan’s talents than took him to the Eastern Ranges in the then TAC Cup before representing Vic Metro at the National AFL Under 18 Championships in 2016 and 2017.There he came across two of his current teammates at Coburg in Luke Bunker and Mitch Podhajski.
‘I did Vic Metro both years (when I was with the Ranges). While I was there, I played with “Bunks” in my bottom-age year and “Pods” in my top-age year,’ Nolan said.
‘I was very surprised that both of them didn’t get picked up, just from their performance and the stuff they did at the Nationals.’
‘I rated them both very highly. “Bunks” was up there in Vic Metro’s best and fairest, and “Pods” was a standout for me. A lot of other people rated them highly.’
Although plying his craft as a key defender now, Nolan hasn’t always been played in that position and interestingly started off as a tall forward in his under-age TAC Cup days.
‘When I started at the Ranges I was more of a forward but then they realised I couldn’t kick goals! I got the opportunities but couldn’t kick straight,’ Nolan said.
‘My coaches in Darren Bewick and Michael Rizio then thought “maybe we’ll try him down back”.’
The change brought about impressive form in his bottom-age and especially in his top-age year in 2017 which saw Nolan finish runner up to Jaidyn Stephenson (Collingwood Magpies) at the Eastern Ranges best and fairest.
“He’s doing pretty well at Collingwood; it’s not too bad being behind him. That’s my claim to fame; I was runner up to the rising star of last year,’ he said.
Coming through the Talent Pathway System doesn’t always guarantee a player of getting drafted into the AFL so Nolan took the initiative in formulating an alternative pathway if his goal wasn’t achieved.
‘When I was finishing up at the Eastern Ranges I knew I was half a chance to get drafted and what not, so I had a chat to the General Manager there about what was the best option for me going forward for football,’ he said.
‘We had a link with Box Hill and he mentioned that they’d be keen to have a look at me, but I probably had more of a chance getting a game with stand-alone club and he said Coburg was the way to go.’
‘I went and had a look at each club and spoke to the managers there and liked Coburg better and I’m happy with the decision now.’
Since coming to Coburg, Nolan believes that the best thing about the club is the mateship that is found within the four walls at the club.
‘For me, we are a professional club but it has a local feel to it. Everyone is really good mates with each other, there’s that camaraderie with each other,’ he said.
‘You come here you’re with all your mates and then you go out for training and it’s still a high quality that you want.’
After strong early season form for North Ringwood, Nolan’s chance at playing VFL would club quickly as he made his Coburg debut in round four of the 2018 VFL season against North Melbourne.
‘It was unreal, I was quite nervous because I knew when I was at the Eastern Ranges I was one of the biggest blokes on the field and could throw my weight around and hold my own but coming here I was playing against grown men,’ Nolan said.
‘North Melbourne had a big side and it was a bit daunting coming in knowing that you’re playing against these fully grown men who have been playing footy for many years.’
Despite some nerves it took some pre- game words from Coburg’s three time Jim Sullivan Medallist, Daniel Venditti; who presented Nolan with his guernsey which put his mind at ease.
‘Daniel was really good, he had a lot to say before the game about the club and the culture. It really just makes you want to play and do the jumper proud, the whole club proud. It inspires you.’
Now in his second season at the club, Nolan has quickly established himself as an integral part and leader of the clubs back line taking the oppositions best forward every week.
‘It is a bit different because naturally I’m more of a follower, I’ll let people tell me what to do and just do what I have to do,’ he said.
‘It is different trying to help others improve and direct them because I’m more used to being told what to do. I’m getting better at the leadership aspect and helping others out, Jesse Corigliano and Ryan Exon definitely helped a lot for me coming through as a young bloke.’
‘Learning off those two and everyone else has been great.’
‘I feel like I’ve stepped up another level. Last year we had Sean Gregory, he was the main key defender whereas this year that has moved onto me,’ Nolan said.
‘I’ve done a lot of work over the preseason on my craft. Since I joined Coburg I’ve been working with Ben Osborne our defensive coach, he was helping me with kicking before and after training and doing extra drills.’
‘I’ll go up to him and ask him what I need to work on and he’ll say this and well have a crack at that.’
‘He’s really good, I love working with him.’
In 2017 Nolan’s former coach at the Eastern Ranges, Darren Bewick described him as a defender in the mould of Adelaide star Daniel Talia and as someone who was “rarely beaten.”
Nolan has kept that defensive mindset but understands that making his opponent accountable is the new trend for key defenders.
‘Back then I probably was a similar type to Talia, a real lock down defender and stop my opponent from having a big impact but now I’m trying to move on from that and be someone who gets more of the ball offensively and has more of an impact setting things up,’ Nolan said.
‘I think that most key defenders now want to model their game Alex Rance, the way he attacks the ball and intercepts is a class above most other defenders.’
‘He’s a really good one to try and model off.’
Although only 26 games into his VFL career, Nolan has played on a number of tall forwards but he feels that a certain 2010 Collingwood premiership player has been his toughest opponent along the journey.
‘Ben Reid this year was a big challenge, his size compared to me and he could move well as well,’ Nolan said.
‘Usually if I’ve got someone covered for size, I’ll just body them or if they have me covered for size I’m usually quicker or fitter than them but Reid had a balance of both.’
Outside of football, Nolan has been working as a shopfitter the past three months at company called Fitting Concepts Australia, while last year he completed two diploma courses through Swinburne University and the Richmond Football Club in Sports Development and in Management.
‘At the moment I’m working as a labourer, fitting apartments down the road in Brunswick and installing kitchen cabinets and bathrooms. I’m just helping out doing the heavy lifting and jobs here and there with all the workers,’ he said.
‘Coming out of high school I didn’t really know what I wanted to do so I thought that was probably a good path.’
‘It was a good course to do, I got a lot of experience out of it, and I’ve got a few qualifications through it and I’ll pull those out later down the track…. It was very sports based and gave me a look into a lot of different fields in sport.
Unlike many of his Coburg teammates, Nolan doesn’t share the same interest in the NBA, preferring to spend his time outdoors camping and catching up with family and friends.
‘I just can’t watch the basketball; all the timeouts just frustrate me, it is too stop-start. Outside of football I’m interested in anything outdoors really,’ he said.
‘I go camping with the family a lot, I’ve got motorbikes and pushbikes at home or I go mountain bike riding. Growing up it was always outdoors stuff and that has stuck with me, I still love doing all of that.’
‘When I get the chance I try and go away camping with mates or something like that, have a weekend away.’
‘I’m also happy to watch the footy or go out and have a couple of drinks with friends. I don’t do that too often but when I do I enjoy it.
Although football has been a large part of Nolan’s life he believes that his two biggest influences have come from his family; his father and his uncle.
‘My old man was a tradie (sprinkler fitter) for 30 odd years before he moved jobs to be a fire fighter,’ he said.
‘He always had the attitude that if you were going to do a job to do it right and drilled that into my brother and I. Dad made sure we did everything well and to perfection.’
‘In a sporting sense I have to go with my uncle (mums brother). My uncle was a good footballer and a very good athlete even now at his age as he’s still doing marathons or ultra marathons. He’s always been the one who has pushed me.’
‘In his juniors he was with a few clubs in the Eastern Football League then he was a part of Essendon’s Under 18s. A couple of seasons he kicked 100 goals so he tells us about that regularly but he’s always asking how I’m going and giving pointers.’
Nolan’s peronsal favourite football highlight comes from his Under 16s premiership with Mount Evelyn.
‘It was good to win the flag but I did an open dislocation in my finger. The bone was sticking out so I ran off the ground with two minutes to go and told the coach I was done for the day.
‘Mum was saying that we needed to get an ambulance and take me to hospital but I wanted to stick around for the medals, go on the stage and hold the cup for a bit then we could go.’
‘When I first dislocated the finger I didn’t even notice it, I kept running around and just happened to look at my hand and thought “there’s a bone sticking out”.’
‘Luckily the ball didn’t go near me until I noticed it. That was quite a surprise.’
A down to earth and easy going person, Nolan has been given the nickname of “The Bear” by Coburg’s forward coach Brent “BT” Taylor.
‘BT calls me “the bear” because he reckons off the field I’m nice and warm, he also said cuddly,’ Nolan said.
‘I wouldn’t describe myself exactly like that but he also said I’m a really nice bloke who can get around everyone and am always cheery and smiling.’
‘I just try and be a nice bloke to everyone, unless you’ve given me a reason to not. If you’re a forward you’re not liked. I’m apparently a teddy bear off the field but a grizzly on it according to him.’
Nolan describes himself as someone who tends to live in the moment and isn’t too fazed in seeing how things unfold in the future.
‘I haven’t really looked that far ahead, once the season is over I’ll dawdle around a little bit and if something comes to me I’ll do it. I’m not big on planning too far ahead. I just take it easy.’