Jack Darling during the round 23 match between Brisbane and West Coast at the Gabba on August 21, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

JACK Darling's dramatic return from football exile last week left Adam Simpson "pleasantly surprised", but the coach will not be able to select the star goalkicker for Sunday's season opener against Gold Coast as he manages an injury crisis. 

Darling, who has now met the AFL's COVID-19 protocols, returned to the club on Friday with a foot injury and addressed his absence in a meeting just with teammates. 

He returns amid an availability crunch, with Simpson declaring the Eagles had suffered fresh injuries in Friday's intraclub hitout, and health and safety protocols have also left up to three players – including star midfielder Tim Kelly – in limbo.


There will likely be at least two debutants against the Suns, and the Eagles could even dip into the WAFL top-up pool as they prepare to pick a team from 26 available players.

On the circumstances that led to Darling's seven-week exile, Simpson said he would not address "the mental health and wellbeing" or "medical status and history" of any of his players. 

"I just don't think it's the right thing to do," the coach said on Monday.

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"That's between Jack and his doctor. I'm just not going to go there, out of respect."

"We'll get on with it really quick and it'll be like nothing has happened in the next couple of days.

"(I was) pleasantly surprised … really happy for him, and the players and the footy club.

"He came in on Friday and met the players, and he's been in contact with the players as well.

"We'll put our arms around him and reconnect. There's been a bit happen since he's been gone with us and with him as well. I'm sure they'll work through all of that."

Jack Darling celebrates a goal during the round 19 match between West Coast and St Kilda at Optus Stadium on July 24, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Since Darling's return, the AFL has confirmed it is content all players now training at their clubs are compliant with the League's vaccination rules and regulations.

Simpson confirmed Darling had returned with a foot issue but said gaining match conditioning would be his biggest challenge.

"He's always fit and he was extremely fit when he left, (but) he's got a couple of niggles," the coach said. 

"It'll now be how long it takes to get match conditioned. There's only so much you can do on your own."

The Eagles have confirmed Kelly is in health and safety protocols, with Simpson suggesting up to two more could be in the same situation. 

He said it was possible the Eagles would line up against the Suns with a player from the WAFL top-up pool.

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"That's a possibility. We just don't know how big the COVID situation is going to get.

"At the moment, we might have two or three players under the protocols. We might have seven or eight by the end of the week.

"We've just got to be ready for anything and I think we're up for the challenge."