It may not have seemed like it at the time, but missing out on being selected in the 2012 Draft was the best thing to happen to Geelong ruckman Darcy Fort.
In his own words, Fort wasn’t ready to make the leap from the Geelong Falcons straight into the AFL system straight out of the NAB League (formerly the TAC Cup).
“Looking back I would’ve struggled coming in as an 18-year-old. I don’t think I was ready to be an AFL player or even play consistent VFL footy,” Fort told AFLPlayers.com.au.
“I was pretty undersized and poor aerobically and that sort of thing, so when I think about my journey and the player I am at the end of it I was probably lucky that it went that way and I didn’t get picked up straight out of the system.”
Instead Fort did his best to shelve his disappointment and do everything in his power to improve himself as a player, spending time with VFL clubs Werribee and Footscray and with Central Districts in the SANFL.
It was in the South Australian league where Fort caught the eye of Geelong’s recruiting staff as a 25-year-old big man who was ready to come into an AFL environment and play immediately.
“I had a chat with (Cats recruiter) Troy Selwood about halfway through last year and they made it clear that they were interested and I had a bit more of a chat leading up to the draft,” Fort said.
“I didn’t want to think about it too much or get too ahead of myself because right up until the day everything was still up in the air. I just tried to put it in the back of my mind and keep playing some good footy.”
The Cats had seen enough to give the South Barwon product the opportunity he had craved, selecting him with pick No.65 in the 2018 AFL Draft.
As soon as he arrived at Geelong, Fort’s mindset was simple.
“When I got to Geelong it was all about getting ready to play AFL and trying to improve my tank and that sort of thing,” Fort said.
“The reminder was always there, as a mature age player, that I’m there to play AFL.”
Fort learned plenty from his two JLT Community Series appearances and went back to the VFL keen to work on his game and give himself the best chance to push his way into the AFL team.
With Rhys Stanley establishing himself as Geelong’s main ruck option and with Esava Ratugolea providing a chop out where needed, the Cats’ VFL side faced a difficult task of managing their ruck set up with Zac Smith, Ryan Abbott and Fort all competing for time in the ruck.
That led Fort to play more time as a forward for the VFL Cats, with the 204cm player booting eight goals in four matches and demonstrating his ability to take strong pack marks around the ground.
With Ratugolea being rested after a solid stint at AFL level, Fort finally got his opportunity in the blue and white hoops in front of 15 family members and countless more friends at Kardinia Park against the Western Bulldogs last Saturday night.
Fort, who had his jumper presented by teammate and former South Barwon teammate Tom Stewart prior to the game, booted three goals and added 17 hit-outs as he rucked alongside fellow Geelong Football League alumni Abbott.
“It was pretty insane. When I got told (he would be making his debut) it was a great sense of relief and to actually get out there and run around was an amazing feeling,” Fort said.
Fort said his own experience and the journeys of teammates Stewart and Abbott, who the Cats plucked from their own backyard in Grovedale, emphasised the importance of staying persistent and never giving up on your ultimate goal.
“I hadn’t given up on the dream by no means but it was just in the back of my mind that if I could get to a club and play some good consistent footy I could be the player I wanted to be,” Fort said.