Sam Darcy celebrates a goal during the R2 match between Western Bulldogs and Gold Coast at Mars Stadium on March 24, 2024. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

SAM DARCY thought it was just a corked quad when he came off the SCG last July. It ended up being much worse.

Burst blood vessels forced him to remain in Sydney when the team headed home. It ultimately cost him another two months, just when he was back in the team. Yet another unusual injury that required specialist intervention. 

The 2021 pick No.2 has endured a brutal welcome to the AFL. While those drafted around him – Nick Daicos (51 games) and Jason Horne-Francis (42 games) – have played plenty of football early, including big finals, Darcy has spent more time in hospitals and in the rehab group than on the park. Richmond key defender Josh Gibcus is in the same boat.   

Darcy arrived at the Whitten Oval with a stress fracture in his foot, which wiped out most of his debut season. Then he missed a chunk of football last year when a hole was discovered in his lung. A fractured jaw in the VFL and the incident at the SCG limited Darcy to just seven AFL appearances until his return against Gold Coast last Sunday in Ballarat.

"It has definitely had its challenges. You always try and set yourself lofty goals for the season coming ahead. It can be tough at times when you get setbacks, especially ones that are so random and obnoxious and you don't see coming," Darcy told this week after kicking two goals from 15 disposals at Mars Stadium. 

"I think I've handled it pretty well – as tough as it can be at times – I've tried to stay positive and grow in different areas off-field. I think it's a mindset that will hold me in good stead in the long run. You also learn good habits going through those injuries.

Sam Darcy gets tangled with Errol Gulden during the R18 match between Western Bulldogs and Sydney at the SCG on July 13, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"It was tough not being out on the track but you do build up a lot of resilience through lots of different injuries. I've been able to practice different off-field stuff like mindfulness, yoga and breathwork, which you might not have time to explore otherwise. I can take them into my career going forward."

While the Whitten Oval was being redeveloped, both literally and figuratively over the off-season, Darcy was coming and going every other day. No player was spotted at the club more between the club's final game in August and the start of the pre-season in November.

Darcy was one of the standouts across the pre-season and was stiff not to be picked against Melbourne in round one. He had been in a battle with Rory Lobb all summer for the spot behind Tim English in the ruck and alongside Aaron Naughton and Jamarra Ugle-Hagan inside 50. He didn't whinge. Instead, he went back to the VFL and kicked five goals for Footscray in a practice match. It was only going to be a matter of time before he got the spot. 

"I was obviously disappointed initially, but there is only one thing you can do and that's keep your head down and try and prove to the coaches that you are good enough to be in the team and keep performing," Darcy said.


"I think it's a good sign for our list that there is that healthy, competitive, fight for spots. Lots of people are fighting for spots, so it's not just us. Me and Rory get on really well. We are both here trying to put our best foot forward. We'll just leave it up to the coaches."

Darcy is unlike almost any athlete the AFL has seen. Standing at 208cm, the Scotch College product has played in the ruck and in a key post at either end across his first eight games. He is lighter and more mobile than most close to his size, providing the high-performance department with a unique challenge to develop. Long-term he wants to be a ruckman who plays forward. But right now, with the reigning All-Australian ruckman in the side, the split is the other way.

"During the pre-season I did a lot of work in the ruck working closely with 'Ladey' [midfield coach Brendon Lade] and Tim English. That ruck craft is something I want to have in my arsenal going forward," he said.

Sam Darcy is seen alongside Rory Lobb and Tim English during the Western Bulldogs' official team photo day at Whitten Oval on February 28, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

"The plan now is that ruck-forward mix. I've played down back in the past, so I've always got that if needed. I'm going to say a ruck-forward (in the long-term). Think more ruck than forward, but not too fazed as long as I'm playing."

Lade is in his corner, but ironically, for a long time the Port Adelaide great was one of his dad's toughest opponents. At the turn of the century, Luke Darcy and Lade were two of the best ruckmen in the country, competing for All-Australian blazers. Darcy collected one in 2002 when he shared the Leigh Matthews Trophy with Michael Voss. Lade secured two in 2006 and 2007 after leading the Power to their only AFL premiership in 2004. 

"Ladey has been really helpful with my development," he said. "I've worked with him really closely on my craft stuff in the mornings on the touch floor. After training we go through edits. He is so knowledgeable and experienced in the game. Hall of Fame career at Port Adelaide, assistant at different clubs, so he has been a great sounding board for me."

Sam Darcy during a Western Bulldogs training session at Whitten Oval on March 20, 2024. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

Darcy is a third-generation player at the Dogs. He has red, white and blue blood coursing through his veins. His dad played 226 games, captained the club and is now the football director on the board. His grandfather, the late David Darcy, played 133 games for Footscray between 1963 and 1971, as well as two stints with South Adelaide in the SANFL. 

"For as long as I can remember, this is what I've wanted to do," he said. "I've always wanted to play AFL, always wanted to play for the Bulldogs. It is pretty special when you think about it."

Darcy has had to be patient. Now he is ready to make up for lost time.

Sam and Luke Darcy before the 2021 AFL Draft. Picture: AFL Photos