15 days to the draft: Meet gun prospect Darcy Gardiner
Tall defender whose competitive streak rises to the big occasion
By Callum Twomey
THE GEELONG Falcons key defender is probably the best tall back available in this year's draft, and showed throughout the year he had the ability to play on a number of different types of opponents.
On the AIS-AFL Academy tour of Europe he had an engrossing battle with Tom Boyd in front of a group of recruiters at Copenhagen. He brought back that form to the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships, when he beat South Australian Darcy Hourigan while playing for Vic Country. Unfortunately he finished that game with an ankle injury, which kept niggling him for several weeks afterwards.
Gardiner can also be pushed forward, where he showed some encouraging signs for the Falcons throughout the year.
STRENGTHS He's a competitor. Gardiner really hates being beaten, an essential trait when playing on opponents who are often bigger and stronger than him. He's a good spoiler, has courage, and is generally a reliable mark and kick when starting his team's rebound. His games on Boyd – he also played against the likely No.1 pick in a Vic Country v Vic Metro trial match – showed his aggressive streak. Going forward for any long stretch is going to be unlikely at AFL level but because his marking is good, it is a pinch-hit option.
WEAKNESSES The main query on Gardiner is his height. Because he stands about 192cm, when he progresses to an AFL environment he will probably only be able to play as a third tall. That's fine, but it means recruiters would love him to have an extra two or three centimetres of growth left in him.
There's a bit of Cale Hooker in the way Gardiner defends. He isn't overly fashionable but he reads the ball well in the air, knows where it'll drop, and understands his role is to do everything to stop his man from getting the ball.
DRAFT RANGE Started the season probably ranked a little higher, but is still likely to be picked somewhere from 15-30.
BOTTOM LINE Gardiner has the survival instincts of all the defenders. He nudges, niggles and annoys forwards, and often beats them. One of not many quality taller defenders around.
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