As the old adage goes in the AFL industry, big men usually take longer to develop than most.
However, Sean Darcy is already showing why his 201cm and 111kg body is ready-made for the rigours of the ruck role.
The 20 year-old, who has earned his second selection in the 22Under22 squad, has averaged 32 hit-outs in five games in 2018 during the absence of Fremantle’s first choice ruckman Aaron Sandilands.
Sandilands’ injury has given Darcy a late-season platform to show Fremantle fans and the footballing world why he has the ability to cover, if not overtake, the number one ruck role at the Dockers.
One person who believes Darcy is primed to dethrone Sandilands is ex-Geelong Falcons coach, Andrew Allthorpe.
Allthorpe says his former protégé has shown he is ruthless enough to become an elite ruckman at AFL level.
“He’s proven what he can do with what he’s served up in his first games at AFL level with how competitive he is,” Allthorpe told AFLPlayers.com.au.
“His conditioning keeps improving and he’s actually getting involved after the contest now, getting touches on the ground and kicking goals.”
Darcy’s competitiveness and potential can be traced back to his playing days at the Falcons, where he emerged as a promising young tall in his bottom-aged year in the TAC Cup.
Allthorpe remembers the elation of the Falcons’ coaching staff when Darcy showed up to training the first time, as the Geelong side had endured multiple seasons without a genuine ruckman.
“We were pretty excited to get someone in the team who could play ruck,” Allthorpe said.
“His tap work was really strong. We had Rhys Mathieson in Sean’s bottom-aged year and he was rapt he got to play with Sean.
“When we did have him, the midfielders were really excited because they knew Sean was going to get first hand on the ball and he worked really well with them.”
Those traits were also shown at school level when Darcy had the opportunity to play for Xavier College in the APS competition.
Xavier’s coach Martin Heppell says Darcy’s deft tap work left many opposition teams without answers.
“He had soft hands, a good left peg and he dominated the APS with his tap work,” Heppell told AFLPlayers.com.au.
“Around the ground he was a big, solid unit and he could clunk marks. He’s a lovely fella, but he’ll go out there and when he’s ready to roll, he won’t back down.”
Although battling for the number one spot against arguably the most dominant ruckman of this generation, it’s not the first time Darcy has faced a big challenge in his football career.
A popular member of the Falcons squad in 2015 and 2016, Darcy had to balance commuting from Melbourne’s Xavier College, to training and playing in Geelong, visiting family in Cobden, while also dealing with fitness and back issues in his top and bottom-age years.
However, Allthorpe says Darcy’s determination to overcome those obstacles showed a resolve which could stand up at the elite level.
“It was really just up to Sean and getting fit enough to get that opportunity,” he said.
“When you try and balance yourself between going to school at Xavier and trying to be a part of the Falcons program and Vic Country, it was really challenging to get conditioning in him.
“He was just a really determined character.”
Throughout his schooling years, Darcy was knocked for his aerobic ability, with some recruiters believing he wasn’t fit enough to play in the AFL.
Heppell says part of those fitness issues may have come down to what was being served to him on a daily basis at school.
“When he was at boarding school, his diet wasn’t that great, which probably wasn’t his own fault,” Heppell said.
“You go into the tuck shop and you’re loading up on Lasagne or every Friday night there’s fish and chips so he was under the pump from that point of view.”
However, once Darcy realised he was a genuine chance of being drafted, he transitioned into a determined and driven athlete.
One thing that highlighted Darcy’s attitude towards adapting to professional standards was his willingness to get fit when others were off enjoying their end-of-season break.
“What used to happen over the Christmas break is Sean used to come into the Falcons’ headquarters where Matt Critchley, the High Performance Manager does personal training,” Allthorpe said.
“Sean did work with him outside of training expectations to prove that he could go to that level.”
With a workman-like nature and willingness to compete, Fremantle fans may breathe a sigh of relief knowing that life without Aaron Sandilands may not be as bleak as first thought, especially with a ready-made replacement waiting in the wings.
But even though Darcy has shown he can step into the role, Allthorpe believes there is still room for improvement in the young ruckman’s game.
“If he can go forward at different stages, it’d be a good asset for him to have, which I think he’s done at WAFL level a couple of times,” Allthorpe said.
“That’s something he needs to work on, adding something that’s a bit more attacking to his game.”