He may have an aristocratic sounding name and a private-school background, but Darcy Bryne-Jones is carving out a reputation as a hard-nosed defender at one of the AFL’s most working-class clubs.
Maybe it is because the Port Adelaide 20-year-old – this week’s AFL Rising Star nominee – has had to toil away at his football career all the way up to his first season at AFL level.
Byrne-Jones was one of five students from Melbourne’s Scotch College who graduated from the class of 2013 to win a spot on an AFL list: Jack Billings (St Kilda), Jake Kelly (Adelaide) and Will Maginness (West Coast) were also drafted, while Jack Sinclair (St Kilda) was later picked up through the rookie draft.
Billings, who lived about 15 minutes away from Byrne-Jones as a teenager, said the Port defender was a quietly determined kid who let his football do the talking.
“When we first started out he was in the 7B teams for cricket and footy, and when we got a bit older we used to joke about it a bit, that they didn’t realise what he was capable of,” Billings said.
“Year 11 was his breakout year. He played well in the First XVIII and ended up getting invited down to Oakleigh Chargers for the following preseason and the rest was history. He fitted in really well and his form was good enough to get a look-in for Vic Metro.”
The pair used to spend a bit of time together at Scotch. “He’s a good bloke and he loves his sport so we’d always find something to have a bit of a chat about in the classroom,” Billings said.
They were in the same school football, athletics and cricket teams: “He was an opening batsman. Made a couple of big scores but it was funny, he used to crack it if he got out cheaply, he’d chuck the bat and the helmet, that sort of stuff”.
“He was always one of those guys who played on the edge a bit and loved a scrap out on the field.”
– Jack Billings
Such episodes just drove home to Billings that while his mate was generally a fairly quiet and reserved character, his demeanour would change once he was thrust into a sporting environment.
“He was always one of those guys who played on the edge a bit and loved a scrap out on the field,” Billings said. “He was only skinny, but he was aggressive off half back and wasn’t afraid to have a go.
“Around school he was pretty quiet and laid back, probably naturally pretty reserved although he was always up for a laugh. But on the ground he’d get a bit of that white-line fever.”
Billings can vividly recall attending the 2013 AFL National Draft at the Gold Coast Convention Centre, wondering which of his Year 12 classmates would be called out.
“I had a few commitments up there (on stage) and a bit of media, so I wasn’t really able to see the picks as they were getting called. But not long afterwards I caught up on it and saw that Darcy got picked up, which was awesome.
“I spoke to him the next day and he was pretty excited. It couldn’t be that easy, having just turned 18 and being fresh out of school and moving out of home and interstate. Like it would for most guys it probably took him a while to adjust, but he seems really settled over there now and enjoying his footy, which helps a lot with the way you play.”
Byrne-Jones did not make his AFL debut until Round 3 of this season, but he has impressed in the eight games since, averaging 18 disposals a game.
Billings said it probably took his mate a while to emerge at AFL level because he was pretty lightly built, relatively inexperienced and trying to force his way into a a powerful line-up. “I think Port made the prelim in his first season, and I remember talking to him when he came back to Melbourne and he said it was tough to get a look in.”
The old schoolmates caught up in Round 1 when St Kilda played the Power at Adelaide Oval, “exchanged the odd text message here and there” and tried to catch up over summer.
There is usually a bit of banter between them, and Billings reckons Byrne-Jones is a bit of quiet achiever on the sledge, as well.
“He’s got a bit of a cheeky side to him and he doesn’t mind a joke,” Billings said.
“And don’t worry he can give a bit of lip to blokes on the field if he thinks its necessary. He doesn’t mind getting stuck into an opponent.”
THE SCOTCH COLLEGE FOOTY GRADUATES OF 2013
“We had a pretty strong team, so it was good times,” Billing said. “Both our cricket and footy teams were pretty dominant but we fell just short of winning the football premiership, which was pretty shattering. We lost two games out of the 10 and I think Melbourne Grammar won it that year. It probably didn’t help that we had a lot of rep players in the team, who ended up missing some games.”
Jack Billings (2013 national draft pick No.3) – St Kilda, 34 games
Darcy Byrne-Jones (2013 national draft pick No.52) – Port Adelaide, 8 games
Jake Kelly (2014 rookie draft, pick 40) – Adelaide, 10 games
Will Maginness (2014 rookie draft, pick 5) – West Coast, 0 games, since delisted
Jack Sinclair (2015 rookie draft, pick 1) – St Kilda, 25 games