AN ILLUSTRATION of Darcy Parish's traits as a prospect came very early this season when he starred against the Northern Blues VFL side with a broken thumb.
Playing on the MCG in April for the NAB AFL Academy, Parish started the contest at half-back before shifting into the midfield after the main break. It was then he noticed his hand getting sorer, but he kept playing and finished with 25 disposals as one of the best players on the ground.
The attacking midfielder found out days later he would require surgery to repair the cracked thumb, forcing him out of action for six weeks. If recruiters needed any extra sign that Parish complements his class with his courage, it was on show against the Blues.
To be fair, they were probably already aware of his ability. Parish has been through every stage of the Victorian talent pathway, playing at state level in the under-12s, 15s, 16s and over the past two years with Vic Country's under-18 side.
He was named an All Australian last year and backed it up this year with another guernsey after the under-18 carnival, and has been a prominent member of the NAB AFL Academy squad.
There isn't a midfielder who takes the game forward like Parish. He is quick thinking and so fast to make a decision that he is always on the move and brings the flow of the contest with him. Parish's foot skills are deft and reliable on both sides, and he has more class than most of the prospects in the upper echelon.
Last year as a bottom-ager, Parish played mostly as a half-back flanker for the Falcons, using his game sense and speed to set up the play. This year he moved into a permanent midfield role and grew his game enormously, having an impressive mix of inside and outside skills.
Parish fights for the ball at the stoppages, is clean enough to dart away from them and hit a target, and then go and do it again. He's tough and doesn't let his smaller frame stop him from fighting for the ball. The 18-year-old averaged 28 disposals a game at TAC Cup level (16 contested and 12 uncontested), plus seven clearances and five inside-50 entries, showing his all-round quality.
Towards the end of the season Parish also started hitting the scoreboard more and marking overhead, including a clutch grab late in the Falcons' qualifying final loss to North Ballarat. Parish tends to step up when the game gets hot.
Perhaps the only question surrounding Parish is his size. At 181cm and 74kg he is not a big midfielder at a time when clubs become more and more fond of the taller midfield options. It means he will need to find other ways to get the ball at the next level, but his ability to work hard and play smart means this won't be much of an issue.
Parish completed testing at this month's NAB AFL Draft Combine without blowing anyone away with outstanding results, but that isn't too much of a concern. His pace (3.07 seconds over the 20-metre sprint) and endurance (level 13.8 beep test) is solid but Parish is more a footballer than an athlete. That's pretty clear when watching him play.
Many clubs have asked Parish if there's a player he models his game on and it's a question he struggles to answer. There's a little bit of early days Dale Thomas in his spark and excitement around the ball, but he is more of a midfielder than what Thomas was at the same age. Parish reminds some of Rory Sloane in the way he hunts the footy at the stoppages and just keeps working.
Parish looks set to be a top-five draft pick on draft night, with Melbourne (pick No.3) and Essendon (No.4) most strongly linked. As perhaps the best midfielder in it, Parish belongs near the top.
Parish gives this draft its dash. He's an influential player who shapes games through sheer hard work, footy smarts and a good dose of class. The midfielder will become a fan favourite at the next level because he takes the game on, plays to his strengths and with dare.