It turns out Sam Taylor is a fast healer.

When the 2022 All-Australian strained his hamstring against Essendon in round 23, the scan results were bad. He was expected to miss at least five weeks and potentially up to seven. But Taylor only missed one week. 

The 24-year-old spent the pre-finals bye period sitting in a hyperbaric chamber, lying face down on the massage table, and undergoing red light therapy in a bid to win an unlikely race against the clock to be fit in time for the first weekend of the finals.  

Taylor won that race and the GIANTS won the do-or-die clash against St Kilda at the MCG – maintaining their unbeaten elimination final record – but only after former teammate Jeremy Cameron shared some secrets about how he recovered from a hamstring strain in time to play last September.

"Round 23 I got hurt and I didn't want to come off. I really wanted to play round 24. I love big games and I knew I'd done it, but thought I could get through it. But then we got the scans back and it was worse than first expected. It was supposed to be a five- to seven-week injury," Taylor revealed to after the 24-point win on Saturday.

"When I found out the news I was pretty rattled. Then I found out 'Jezza' did it around round 22, 23 and he got back and played and got through, so I sent him a message and he just gave me so much confidence. I was expecting to miss a lot more games. To know that he did it helped me."

Sam Taylor and former GIANT Jeremy Cameron.

"I was very determined to make it. To get through the game was surprising and such a relief because it was such a big injury. I trusted the physios and the doc and myself, so to get back in two weeks was unbelievable."

Part of the reason Taylor desperately wanted to feature in round 24 was the opportunity to play on Charlie Curnow, the Carlton superstar gunning to win a second consecutive Coleman Medal. That blockbuster match-up will have plenty of bouts to come, just like the one with Saints spearhead Max King. 

"He (King) moves really well for a big man. He is so good overhead. He is definitely one of the premier key forwards in the comp. He is already a special player, but I expect him to win a few Colemans in the next decade. The Saints are very lucky to have him," Taylor said after restricting King for most of the elimination final, although the 2018 No.4 pick still finished with three goals. 

Sam Taylor in action for the GIANTS against St Kilda.

Taylor grew up on a 117-acre farm in Bullsbrook, an hour north of Perth, where as one of seven children – six boys and one girl – to Graham and Susan, sports were life. The goalposts on the property gave that away. 

But despite excelling as a junior, reaching the AFL felt out of reach for Taylor until a coming-of-age performance for Swan Districts in the WAFL put him on a path to being selected by the GIANTS with pick No.28 in the 2017 AFL Draft. 

By that point of the year, then-GIANTS list manager Craig Cameron, national recruiting boss Adrian Caruso and recruiting officer Emma Quayle had made the trip across from Melbourne to visit the farm. They needed to know if moving from a town of just over 5000 people to a city of just over five million people was going to be a problem. It wasn't. 

Since then, the 198cm, 95kg backman has played 91 games, including the 2019 Grand Final in just his second season. Last year, he announced himself as one of the best key defenders in the caper when he won his first Kevin Sheedy Medal and claimed his first All-Australian blazer. While coaches and teammates have helped his development, tough love from Taylor's brothers – Josh, Zach, Ben, Luke and Tom – and parents hasn't let fame or fortune get to his head. 

"I've got a big family," he said. "Growing up, I don't think I received one compliment from them. They were always hard on me and naturally I think I'm my own harshest critic. They drive me to get better because when I have a good game, they nit pick the little things. They don't hold back but they keep me grounded. I don't like taking it too seriously, but my brothers help me stay grounded. I hate losing because of them."

Taylor could have been named All-Australian for the second time at the end of August, but he missed too many games due to two different hamstring strains. The first cost him seven games – although it was expected to sideline him for three months – at a time when he had made a blistering start to the year, before he missed an eighth in round 24. 

Missing out on selection frustrated Taylor – he wants to be the best key defender in the game – but it will drive him to investigate methods to improve his durability after two soft tissue setbacks in the same season could have proven even more costly than they were.

"Yes, to be honest it did. I can't blame anyone but myself because I've got to be healthy. That's just football. I played 15 games. I feel like other people got more frustrated about it than I do. I just want to be out there and be available," he said.

"I'll be working hard over the off-season to play 23 games. I hate watching football on the sidelines, it is the worst. Watching it last week against Carlton, I couldn't stop shaking because I hate watching it from the sidelines. I want to get more durable. 

"I want to be the best key defender in the game, but right now, I'm more focused on the team and just being more available. I was very disappointed this year being injured. Your best ability is to be durable. You can get individual awards, but nothing beats playing finals with your teammates. That's more special than individual awards."

Finals victories are becoming part of the GIANTS' DNA. They have now won finals in six of the past eight years. 

Surrounded by family and teammates, Taylor expressed his confidence in returning to the MCG later this month. To do that, they will need to beat Port Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval on Saturday night before returning to face Collingwood in a repeat of the 2019 preliminary final.

"We do feel like anything is possible," he said. "If our midfield plays like that every week, I don't think we can be beaten. They were incredible with their contest and pressure, it just makes defenders' lives so much easier. Every week we are building confidence."

Taylor signed a three-year extension in 2021, more than a year before his contract was up, taking him through to free agency in 2025. Despite being more than six hours from home, Sydney is now home. 

"For the first four years, it was good to get back to WA because that's home. But Sydney is now home," he said. "I spend less time in WA. I love Sydney. It is a great place to be. I've built so many good connections. The playing group, there are so many good fellas here. I just feel like I've slowly made that transition over the last couple of years. This is home now."