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First game against Falcons huge for Harris and TigersFriday, May 19, 2017 - 2:48 PM - by Chris Pike

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THE time has now come for West Perth legend Darren Harris to coach against the Falcons for the first time but the first-year Claremont boss has his sole focus on getting a win for the Tigers on his return to HBF Arena.

Harris will always be a legend of the West Perth Football Club as a premiership captain, Simpson Medal winner and premiership coach.

He left West Perth at the end of the 2005 season to join West Coast as an assistant coach but he always envisioned himself returning to the Falcons one day.

With Bill Monaghan now West Perth's longest-serving coach and having led the Falcons to a premiership and another grand final in his own right meant that opportunity just never eventuated.

So it got to a point where Harris knew it was almost becoming too long since he coached at a high level where it was now or never for him to throw his hat back in the ring.

After his time with Carlton where he also coached their VFL side the Northern Blues up until the end of 2012, Harris has been back in Perth but focusing on his work with Leading Teams despite some coaching roles with his son's junior team and also the WAFL state side the past two seasons.

Having been away from a full-time club environment for four years, Harris felt any longer and it might prove too difficult to get back in and the game might indeed pass him by to be a senior coach.

With no change happening at West Perth with Monaghan's future secured, Harris had to look elsewhere and when Michael Broadbridge decided 2016 would be his last season with Claremont, it gave Harris some thinking time.

He admits it wasn’t easy on two fronts. Firstly he had to decide if he wanted to be a senior coach again. And with the timing feeling right in terms of his family and work, that decision soon became relatively easy.

But then deciding to coach in the WAFL meaning he will have to try to plot the downfall of West Perth several times a season is something that didn't feel too comfortable for him.

Harris joined West Perth in 1992 making the move west having previously played with Golden Square in Bendigo and Wodonga in the Ovens and Murray League.

In five years with the Falcons, Harris would go on to captain the 1995 premiership while also winning the grand final Simpson Medal and claiming the Breckler Medal of that year.

He went on to captain the WAFL state side in 1996 and the legacy he left in five seasons saw him named in the Team of the Decade of the first 10 years of West Perth's move to Joondalup.

Harris returned to West Perth as senior coach in 2002 and took the Falcons to the premiership in 2003 before leaving for the Eagles in 2005.

The time at West Perth is something that Harris will forever treasure and the Falcons will always feel like home for him.

That's why it was a tough decision to decide to coach against them while in charge of Claremont.

That will now become a reality this Saturday with West Perth hosting Claremont at HBF Arena. 

"It wasn’t an easy thing, it really wasn’t and it was a big part of my decision. When I came back four years ago I had the thought that I wanted to coach West Perth again one day, and that's what I wanted to do," Harris said.

"It was a really big decision to go to another club and it really didn’t sit well with me for a couple of months there. But it's quite amazing that once you get into a club and you get to know the people. Now I feel like a Claremont person. It's quite interesting that right here, right now that's my club and I'm loving being there.

"I didn’t expect to feel this way because of my connection to West Perth over a long period of time, but I'll never forget those times. The era I was involved in and those people I was involved with in that time will always be my great mates and people I respect because we did some special things together. That can never get taken away and now it's another era for me at Claremont."

Helping Harris to feel at home quickly at Claremont has been the fact that he has plenty of old West Perth familiar faces surrounding him.

"I reckon I'd feel naked without Geoff Valentine next to me. He has just been my great mate and right hand man, and he is a good football person who always challenges me," he said.

"We challenge each other but it's done so respectfully and we have such a great friendship that having him around really relaxes me, and makes me feel good about what I'm doing.

"To have Steve Trewhella and Craig Bolton get involved too who are mates, you just know that they've got your back. I have coached Kepler Bradley and I've been really impressed with the way he goes about it. That softens the impact of being at a new club."

The day might have mixed emotions for Harris as he returns to Joondalup on Saturday in an opposition shirt, but his focus won't be deterred from the job at hand.

It's an important game for his Claremont having now lost five in-a-row after starting 2017 winning the opening three games.

With West Perth fresh off the bye and on its own four-game winning run, the job is ahead of Harris.

While Claremont might be without some important players, there are no excuses and Harris hopes some winning form isn’t too far away.

"The players are just quality people and I'm really enjoying getting to know them. As we gel and get to know each other and they get to know me and the way we play, I'm hopeful that the best is yet to come," he said.

"Injuries are no real excuse but in the first couple of games you don’t make any changes and you get a bit of continuity.

"We have lost a few but as a coach you just have to trust the process and it's a chance to give other blokes the chance to play. We are finding out more about our squad quicker and we are learning a lot."

One great positive in recent weeks for Claremont has been the successful return to football of former Fremantle and Peel Thunder injury-ravaged utility Anthony Morabito.

He has now played the last two weeks in the league side for 46 possessions after two weeks in the reserves. Harris couldn’t be happier for him.

"We aren’t over-endowed with tall defenders so when Haydn Busher goes down injured, we probably brought him back a little bit earlier than we might have originally thought we would," Harris said.

"But it's great to have him and he just looks so composed out there. He played really well especially in that first game and to get one of our three awards on the back of a big stint out of the game says a lot about his ability."