Ahead of his 250th game against Melbourne on Saturday night, Michael Whiting had a chat with Jarrod Harbrow for 20 minutes from Gold Coast's hub in Wollongong. He's a Cairns product, was drafted by the Western Bulldogs and has been with the Suns since day one. He is a best and fairest winner, a truly under-rated player that has had a huge impact on the Suns both on and off the field.
MW: So, 250 games, what are your thoughts on that milestone?
JH: I just see it as a time to reflect on the journey that has been so far. There's ups and downs and different challenges and there's some really great times. The opportunity to be part of a new footy club and to still be playing to this day and still contributing is important to me. I've always seen myself as a team-first player, to try and be a reliable teammate and be as consistent as possible in everything. I've tried my best to be that type of player for the team, both on and off the field. Coming to the Suns, I knew I wasn't going to be just a footy player, I knew I had a much bigger role to play off the field in helping to set the footy club up and be part of the Gold Coast community.
MW: You've talked about a lot of ups and downs in your 14 years, what continues to motivate you to train and play?
JH: There's different motivations. I don't think there's been a player in history that's played for this amount of time, 14 years, that hasn't questioned whether they should still go on each year. There's so many times when I've thought I should hang them up and retire, but then I find a new motivation or something else pops up and I think that's worth playing for and worth continuing to give my all to the footy club. I don't want to be that player that finishes up a bit early and has regrets years down the track. I've had a lot of good people around me to keep me on the right track and keep me going. If it wasn't for them I could have been finished up a few times.
MW: You might not have an answer to this, but how much longer do you think you can play?
JH: No doubt at the moment it's one week at a time, definitely one year at a time. I'm out of contract this year and to be honest my form this year has been well below my standards. I think that's another motivation for me, to turn my form around. I'm so pumped and excited the team is doing a lot better. We're certainly challenging other teams and winning games, which is great, and that's the priority. My form, I know I need to pick that up and that starts with day-to-day things like training. The body is still feeling good, I've still got my speed. I think all players are the best judge of themselves deep down. I'll know when I'm falling off. That's the challenge of testing yourself and not giving in, finding that extra motivation to keep going. This year has been good. I get excited a lot more now by debutants and the team going so well, that keeps the drive alive for me.
MW: What do you like most about the current team and the way the club's set up at the moment?
JH: I just love how the whole football club has changed in the past few years. Starting with getting Mark Evans, Jon Haines and Dewy in and the team they brought in and around them. No doubt they've had a huge impact on the change at the footy club the past few years. It certainly helps me to stay at the footy club and play fairly consistent footy. Now we've got such a supportive environment for everyone that comes into the place to thrive and absolutely try and get the most out of their careers. Hopefully we get players to come to our system and they became great footballers and really great people. Also staff, we embrace every staff member that walks through the doors and hopefully whenever they leave, they leave better people. That's where I see everything at the moment. The change from those guys I mentioned has allowed the footy club to be in the position it is today, which is great, and we're finally seeing a bit of success from that.
MW: Having dealt with you for a long time, you're definitely more about the holistic person than just the footballer, is that fair to say?
JH: That’s 100 percent right. I've certainly given my all to the footy club since I've been here, on and off the field. I've got a whole life to live after footy, after my career. A lot of what I'm doing now is the transition of what life after footy will look like for myself and my family. Hopefully I've had a good impact on the football club and helped grow and support the football club in some way. That's something I'd be most proud of.
MW: I know family is huge for you, everything, you've got a second bub on the way is that right?
JH: We've got another one due next month actually, around the 17th of August, a little baby boy.
MW: How do you think (daughter) Riley will go with a sibling?
JH: She'll be five next week actually. She'll be great. She's getting used to it already. She's excited. We're trying to ask her for different names, but we get a lot of random rubbish names, haha. If it was up to her I'm not sure what the baby's name would be. She's going to be good, she's going to learn, I think she'll be a great big sister.
MW: Your partner Emma is in the airline industry, so how did COVID19 affect her and you guys as a family?
JH: She got stood down at the start of it when everyone else in the airline got stood down. She had a month or two left of work before she went on maternity leave, so it cut her short a bit, but it didn't have too much impact to be honest. We know a lot of other families around the country were doing it a lot worse than us.
MW: Tell us about yourself away from the field - I know you're an outdoors man. What do you like doing in your spare time or during the off-season?
JH: Off-seasons have been pretty good. We've always gone overseas, that's what footy has provided, we've been able to travel the world. We've been on boat cruises around the French Polynesia, to Europe, all throughout the States. It's given me a great opportunity to travel and experience new cultures. When I'm back home or in Cairns, I love to go out and go fishing with family. I love to do that on the Gold Coast. I've made a good relationship with the indigenous community on the Gold Coast, especially with Luther Cora and his family, we go fishing a lot. It gives me great balance. I enjoy taking Riley along now to go looking for mud crabs in the mangroves or spearing fish.
MW: How does she go?
JH: She's learning, she's pretty good at spotting crabs in the mud, but I sense she purely goes there to play in the mud, roll around a bit.
MW: Tell us about Harbrow Mentoring and how it's evolved.
JH: My brother Marc Harbrow started it in 2011 while he was working for AFL Cape York. He started it as a holiday program that he did in his own time during school holidays, and then it grew and grew from that. I only started helping in the last four or five years on the Gold Coast (with the Jarrod Harbrow Leadership Academy). He does a lot of community outreach programs specifically for youth and adult health and fitness classes, a lot of cultural education, leadership, mentoring, all throughout Cairns and Far North Queensland. It's about trying to improve the life skills of youth to become better leaders in the future, make good decisions and just become good people in the community. My side of things has been more around helping support the indigenous boys and girls in the Suns' Academy and helping out with the club's community indigenous programs.
MW: I imagine the kids learn a lot, what have you learnt from doing it?
JH: Everyone's so individual. Everyone's in different stages of their journey. The kids that come through the Academy are striving to get drafted through footy. A lot of them come from remote communities and English is their second or third language, so just trying to help them with their transition, support them and create a culturally supportive environment is something I think is pretty important. They're all naturally talented footballers, so if I can help with the other stuff, I think that goes a long way.
MW: I imagine that's something you'll do when you finish footy?
JH: That's right. That's where I'm focusing my efforts and energy. It's about that transition. I don't want to finish footy and not have something to fall back on. No matter where I find myself or what career I'm in, I'm going to give it the same energy and effort as my playing career. No doubt it will be Harbrow Mentoring and I'll continue to help out the footy club in any role or any way they think I can help.
MW: Two quick ones. Firstly, who do you just love running out alongside every week?
JH: Probably Dave Swallow. You know what you're going to get, he gives it his all and he's turned himself into a really good leader of the footy club.
MW: And the hardest opponent for you to defend?
JH: I'd say Eddie Betts, especially last year when he touched me up at Adelaide Oval. Overall, it'd be him, but I've played on so many of them (small forwards). Back at the Bulldogs, me and Steven Milne used to have a really good duel when we played St Kilda. They're all a great challenge. I could not say one of them is easy to play on, they've all been a challenge.