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Darling gets a big leg up

Jack Darling became the Eagles' main tall forward last season - ${keywords}
Jack Darling became the Eagles' main tall forward last season
WEST Coast forward Jack Darling is hoping the gains made during his third pre-season will allow him to train more between matches this year and be a force in a fearsome Eagles forward line.

Darling has missed just one match in two seasons in an outstanding start to his AFL career, but the 20-year-old has been limited to little more than laps and recovery between games.

The Eagles designed a program to strengthen the young star's legs significantly this summer, and he has missed just two pre-season sessions.

Now, as he prepares to enter the season alongside returning star forwards Mark LeCras and Josh Kennedy, the powerhouse youngster is hopeful he will be an even more durable player.

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"I haven't been training too much during the season, so hopefully I can get a few more skills in which will help my football," Darling told  

"I've really been getting some good leg-weight sessions in this pre-season, so I'm getting stronger there and that hasn't been a strength of mine in the past.

"During the season I'm pretty light early in the week, not kicking the footy and just jogging laps.

"[The aim is] being able to train during the week, instead of just getting right for games, and feel comfortable doing that."

With LeCras (knee) missing the entire 2012 season and Kennedy (ankle) restricted to nine games, Darling became the Eagles' primary forward target last year, playing every game and kicking 53 goals.   

Despite having that responsibility on his shoulders, he said his coaches' directions each week were simply "Do what you want, do what you can do".

Darling finished fourth in West Coast's best and fairest award, behind winner Scott Selwood, ruckman Dean Cox and defender Shannon Hurn, which he said was a shock.

The challenge now, however, is to remain among the Eagles' top handful of players.

"I was just hoping to finish in the top 10, so to finish top four, I just couldn't believe it," he said.  

"Hopefully now I stay in the top five. There's no going back from here. I set high standards for myself, so I don't really want to go backwards."

LeCras and Kennedy have been strong performers late this pre-season as West Coast prepares a full-strength forward line for round one, but Darling said he didn't want to step back into their shadows.  

Forward line coach Justin Longmuir said playing without his accomplished teammates last season had accelerated Darling's development and his training had gone to "a new level" this summer.

"His body is getting used to AFL football a lot more and him and JK [together] is really exciting for us," Longmuir said.

"[Last year] made him become a better footballer and a more imposing player.

"He really had to take a senior position in our forward line and he did it with aplomb.

"Hopefully that continues with 'JK' back."

Jack Darling is a forward in NAB AFL Fantasy. He averaged 70.82 points in 2012. Register your team at our AFL Fantasy Hub.

Nathan Schmook is a reporter for AFL Media. Follow him on Twitter: @AFL_Nathan