Melbourne defender James Harmes has built a successful AFL career on the field with the Demons. Off the field, building is an area of interest and he’s used his time in lockdown to spend a day on a worksite to get an insight into what that environment is like to prepare himself for whatever comes after footy.
Ben Guthrie: Thanks for taking the time to chat with aflplayers.com.au, James. What have you been getting up to in isolation?
James Harmes: I’ve been playing heaps of Call of Duty on PS4, doing workouts in my home gym, walking the dogs and trying to live my life as normal as I can. It’s been pretty tough not seeing family as much as I would like. My older brother had a new born about a month ago and I still haven’t been able to see him in person. I’m looking forward to seeing my new nephew.
How different has it been not training in that team environment which you’re so used to?
It’s been a little weird, but I’ve been training about three times a week with some good mates anyway. It’s included running and a football skills component, mainly with Michael Hibberd and Steven May. We usually have two big sessions for the week and one lighter one and the big ones are up around the 10 or 11km mark. I’ve also got my little gym at home. It’s a pretty simple barbell and dumbbell set up but it does the trick.
Last week you had the opportunity to go out on a worksite and experience a different environment. How did that all come about?
I’m interested in moving into the building industry once footy finishes so it was a good learning experience for me to go out for the day and learn a bit about cranes on my cousin’s worksite. His business is called Knowles Cranes and it was really cool to learn about how it all works. I’ll probably end up doing my rigger’s ticket now and help out my cousin a little bit more now when he needs me. I was just helping out so there was a bit of labouring, changing the hooks on the cranes and I got to drive the crane around a little bit which was good fun.
How did it compare or differ to the AFL environment?
The early wake ups were very different (laughs). I had to be out in Sunshine (in Melbourne’s west) by 7am, so I was up at 5.30am and then home about 4pm. I was pretty knackered by the end of the day but I enjoyed the challenge and change of environment. There’s a fair bit that goes into it. You’ve got to know the whistles when you’re hooking things up onto the crane so it’s just learning about it all and taking it all in. I also helped a mate out with some tree lopping a few weeks back and that was certainly tough!
Building seems to be an area you’re interested in moving into once your AFL career finishes. What else have you been doing to ensure you have the relevant experience?
I completed a certificate four diploma in building last year and hopefully one day I’ll be able to get my builder’s licence. I was about to start a renovation where I’m living in Prahran, but that’s been put on the backburner because of the whole COVID-19 situation. I’d been getting plans and permits the last 18 months and finally got them and was about to start and then this all happened, which was a bit frustrating. But I’ve learned a heap from the process and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into that renovation whenever that is.
You mentioned you’ve been training hard in isolation, but how have you been able to keep up your motivation levels given there was a bit of uncertainty about when the season would actually restart?
When we didn’t have a return date it was tough to keep training because you didn’t know whether you were training for nothing. But now there’s light at the end of the tunnel everyone’s motivation levels are a bit higher and we’re all keen to get back. We’re used to training in a big group so it’s harder to get the skills component in when there’s only two of you but that’s the challenge we have to face. I’ve got a lot of faith in our fitness staff that they’ll have our bodies ready for round two.
Speaking of the fitness staff, Darren Burgess came on board as the head of high performance this pre-season and it sounds as though he well and truly put you through your paces… How do you make sure those gains you made in the pre-season aren’t getting lost now you’re training away from the club?
‘Burgo’s’ been great. He definitely gave us a hard pre-season that’s for sure. It’s just about being committed and trying to do everything you can to the best of your ability and not missing any sessions. It’s been raining and been really cold lately in Melbourne, but it’s just about getting out there and getting it done. It’s about staying committed and leaving no stone unturned.
It probably feels like an age ago now, but you were part of the last game before the season was suspended in March against West Coast. What was it like running out onto Optus Stadium knowing there wouldn’t be any footy anytime soon?
It was a pretty weird feeling to be honest with you. You’ve worked so hard all pre-season and you finally get to your first game and then that happens. It was about an hour before the bounce that we found out that we won’t be playing for a while after it. It was obviously a strange feeling and tough to describe then running out and playing with no fans was pretty different as well. I’m just excited to be hopefully be back out there soon and I’ll be ready for it.
When footy does return will you continue to spend most of your time at half-back as was mooted before the 2020 season began?
You’ll see me play a variety of different roles, but the majority will be off the half-back and trying to create some run and carry from there. But at times I might go back into the midfield and tag and I might even go up forward. I’m really looking forward to playing in a couple of different roles, but that half-back one will be something I really look forward to.
You signed a five-year contract with Melbourne back in October last year, which goes to show how highly they rate you as a player. That must have been a good feeling especially after the troubles you had early in your career?
I’ve said it a few times, but I was nearly shown the door by Melbourne in my first few seasons at the club. But Melbourne have showed a lot of faith in me. They rookie-listed me back in 2013 and I had no hesitation in signing a long-term deal given the faith they showed in me over the journey and helping me turn my career around. I’m forever grateful to the Football Club and I want to be there for my whole career.
Thanks for the chat, James. Good luck for when you do return to the field.
Cheers Ben. Can’t wait.