Stepping into anyone’s shoes is difficult, but stepping into the shoes of an icon? That’s something else entirely.
It’s a task which takes a great deal of self-belief and, importantly, the ability to be unflinching in the face of inevitable criticism.
It’s lucky then, that Brian Taylor possesses both of those qualities in spades.
Taylor will this year take on one of the biggest jobs in Australian sports media, stepping into the seat alongside Bruce McAvaney to call Friday night football for Seven. McAvaney won’t relinquish AFL duties despite revealing at the weekend he has leukaemia.
The commentary shake-up will see Taylor call on Fridays and Sundays, with Basil Zempilas joining Luke Darcy to handle the prime-time Saturday night game.
Hamish McLachlan will partner McAvaney during Thursday night games and call alongside Taylor on Sundays. The special comments and sideline duties will again be headed by Cameron Ling, Wayne Carey, Matthew Richardson, Tim Watson and Leigh Matthews, with a rotating cast including Jimmy Bartel, Peter Bell and Melbourne women’s star Daisy Pearce.
Taylor’s new gig is difficult enough as it is, and when you consider the fact he’s replacing the great Dennis Cometti, the challenge to some would seem insurmountable.
But the former Collingwood and Richmond forward said the key to success is going to be simple — don’t try to be Dennis.
“I guess when anyone ever replaces someone, you should never try and do what they do, because Dennis is the best at what he does,” Taylor said.
“I’ve actually been calling for nearly as long as Dennis, I’ve been calling for 25 years.
“I reckon I’ve been calling footy for long enough for people to understand the way I do it is very different from the way that Dennis does it.
“You’ve just got to be yourself, you can only be you. It’s as simple as that.”
Being himself is something Taylor excels at.
The Mandurah product, who crossed the Nullarbor as a teenager, is a commentator who sees the game through the eyes of a football fanatic and makes no apologies for his, at times, frenzied style.
His love of the game flows into the call, and rather than rely on relatively cold facts and figures, he always seems to be operating at the top end of the temperature scale, and is never afraid to say what’s running through his head.
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea — a recent straw poll on social media came back 50-50 — but in a football environment which seems to encourage players to do and say as little as possible off the field, Taylor’s style is a reminder of when the game was anything but a business.
“The game has become a very . . . it’s a little mundane,” Taylor said.
“Personalities have been subdued and I guess our job in covering the footy is not only to cover the footy, but also to bring as much excitement and entertainment to the footy as we possibly can.
“I get involved in the game, I’m an emotional caller. I’m up and down with the game. If it’s a cracking game then I’m full of enthusiasm.
“I’m not a statistical guru or anything like that, I’m a little bit different, I operate on the emotion of the game. If I was there as a supporter that’s what I’d be doing. That’s the way I look at it.”
Speaking to Taylor, you get the sense that he’s prepared to back himself in against any challenge.
It was a challenge when he moved east, and he answered that by playing 140 games at the Pies and Tigers. Then there was the move into radio in 1992 and the step up to television.
However, even for someone used to answering the call, and someone who seems so self-assured, the Friday night television gig holds a rare sense of wonder.
“It’s something that I’ve been aspiring to for 25 years now,” he said.
“There’s a lot of others out there aspiring to the same thing, some of them will make it and some won’t.
“It hasn’t been easy, I’ve had to earn my stripes, and I’ve got there. So extremely proud of the opportunity I’ve been given and very privileged to be able to do it.”
Seven’s AFL season starts on Thursday with Carlton v Richmond at 4pm. Taylor will call Collingwood v Western Bulldogs on Friday at 4.30pm. WA teams play their first games on Sunday with Eagles v North Melbourne at 10am and Dockers v Geelong at 4.30pm. All games air on 7Mate.