Jack Darling celebrates during the round seven match between Gold Coast and West Coast at People First Stadium, April 28, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

PREMIERSHIP forward Jack Darling has detailed a run of injury complications through the past 12 months that have held him back, but the West Coast goalkicker believes he has turned a corner and is energised for the rest of the season.

The Eagles' second all-time leading goalkicker also revealed he feared for his spot in the team after a fruitless start to the season, but asked coach Adam Simpson to back him in before using his contest and pressure work to re-build form.

Darling, who suffered a fractured left forearm in May last year and missed three matches, required two follow-up operations in the off-season after complications in his recovery that impacted his preparations for 2024.

Unable to lift weights from May on and then experiencing back and shoulder issues, the 31-year-old said the injuries restricted his ability to do contact training until late in the 2024 pre-season, with the impact then felt through the early rounds this year.

Jack Darling during the round nine match between West Coast and Gold Coast at Optus Stadium, May 12, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

"I was getting over my broken arm, which was still broken at the end of the year … it was supposed to just heal, but it wasn't straight-forward and I had two more surgeries in the off-season to fix it," Darling told AFL.com.au this week. 

"So basically, I played the rest of the year with a broken arm, and I thought maybe that's just [how it is].

"I had surgery to get one screw out that was in the fracture site, then I got a bone graft so it could actually heal, and then I got surgery eight weeks later to get the rest of the metal work out.

"That was in maybe late October or early November. Then I was out of contact until about February, so not able to train contested work.

"I'm a little bit behind on that contested work, but I feel like the last month I've got back into it. But that's why I still I still wear the guard now, just because it could be a bit of a weak spot."

Jack Darling during the round 20 match between West Coast and North Melbourne at Optus Stadium, July 30, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

A hamstring injury late in the pre-season also impacted Darling's preparation for this year, and a goalless three-week period followed after kicking one major in the Eagles' season opener against Port Adelaide.

The key forward's spot in the team came under public pressure after the first three weeks and Darling admits he feared for his spot before speaking to Simpson.

"I'm not going to lie, I was a little bit worried," Darling said.

"We had a chat and he said, 'What's going on, mate?' And I said, 'Back me in, it's turning. I'm feeling better in my body. I'm the man for the job'.

"He backed me in and saw things that I was doing. There were three weeks where I didn't kick a goal, but there's things that internally were creating goals for teammates and selfless stuff as well.


"So, he was looking at that stuff and then a couple of goals started to come, and the last month he's been happy. He's saying I'm in a good space, in good form, and helping others around me."

Darling said he was feeling confident after a month providing aerial contests and ground-level pressure, with the Eagles naming the forward their 'trademark' player of the round against Sydney in round four.

A significant accolade has also come from the AFL this week, with Darling named an AFL life member ahead of his 300th official game (including 15 pre-season matches).

Major milestones he has reached in recent times also include moving to third overall on the Eagles' games played list (284), and second overall in the club's all-time goalkicking (516).


"I've been an Eagles fan my whole life, so to see that I'm second for goals and third for games now, and becoming an AFL life member this week, I'm just pinching myself to be in that sort of area as a football player," he said. "It's unbelievable, and it's been quite a journey."

Part of Darling's journey was a period in 2022 when he stepped away from the Eagles' pre-season after failing to meet the AFL's COVID-19 protocols, which were in place at the time.

The 2019 All-Australian, who remains a chance to reach the 300-game milestone this year and is contracted for 2025, said that had been a challenging period for him and his family, but returning to the AFL and playing for as long as he could had always been his intention

Building friendships with a group of new Eagles, enjoying the individual success of teammates like Jake Waterman, and learning how to connect on-field with expressive youngsters like Harley Reid is now his focus.

Jack Darling and Jake Waterman during the round six match between West Coast and Fremantle at Optus Stadium, April 20, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

"I'm not looking back on that [period] now. I want to look forward to 2024 and I just want to try and win as many games as we can and get back to playing finals, because I miss that," he said.

"I'm a football player and that's all I wanted to do, play football. I went through a hard time and that was two or three years ago now.

"I'm enjoying my footy again. It's good seeing all these young guys expressing themselves … and I'm enjoying the success of others, the unity of the club, and making some good friends.

"Until I get the tap on the shoulder, I'll be fronting up every week. I've still got the taste for it, and I love the game, so I'll try to play as long as I can."