THERE wasn't much time for Darcy Cameron to ponder the enormity of the task ahead when news filtered through last week that Brodie Grundy was set to miss a big chunk of the season.
Collingwood had just beaten Essendon in another Anzac Day thriller, but now coach Craig McRae would be turning to Cameron against Gold Coast – and for the next two to three months – after Grundy injured his PCL and Nathan Kreuger suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.
Since arriving from Sydney after one appearance in three seasons at the end of 2019, the 26-year-old West Australian has proven to be a very smart piece of list management, playing 34 games as a back-up ruckman in a deal that saw the Magpies shuffle back from pick No.56 to No.62 to land Cameron.
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With Max Lynch moving to Hawthorn during the annual ruck merry-go-round last October, Mason Cox on the outer and Aiden Begg getting his first taste of AFL against the Suns, Cameron will carry a heavy workload across the middle phase of this campaign.
Gold Coast co-captain Jarrod Witts dominated in the ruck on Sunday, but Cameron made an impact in his first game as Collingwood's No.1 ruckman – Lynch held that mantle when Grundy missed two games last year – collecting 16 disposals, 15 hit-outs, five clearances and two goals, hitting the scoreboard for the 13th game in a row.
"To be honest, I didn't really have too much time to think about it with a six-day turnaround. Everyone has a role to play in the team. Mine is to now to step up and play the majority in the ruck," Cameron told AFL.com.au after Sunday's 25-point win over Gold Coast.
"Witts is a big boy. I did a lot of study on him during the week with Josh Fraser and tried to learn what he liked and didn't like. I played to our strengths. I was lucky to play one game against him in my first game of AFL, so I knew what to expect. It was a good challenge.
"My mindset has always been to compete to the best of my ability. I grew up and spent a lot of time at Sydney playing ruck in the NEAFL, so I'm very familiar with the role; I do enjoy the role, so it is exciting to have that opportunity to step up and be a presence in the team."
Despite producing a career-best season under Nathan Buckley and then Robert Harvey in 2021, Cameron found himself down the pecking order under the new regime. Cox was ahead of him after strong pre-season and practice match form. Then recruit Nathan Kreuger got a spot in the 22 when he returned from concussion in round two.
But after being overlooked during the AAMI Community Series and the season-opener, Cameron grasped his chance when he replaced Kreuger as the medi-sub in the final 30 minutes of round two. He hasn't been out of the side since.
"I was pretty flat about it, as you would expect," he said. "Round two I was lucky enough to be a sub and come on in the last quarter and make an impact, then be able to hold my spot since then. I'm just looking to play my role each week, as clichéd as that sounds, but that's what we want from all our players at the moment."
After playing 11 games across four seasons in the AFL – after being plucked out of the WAFL as a 21-year-old – the Albany product was rewarded for his perseverance last year, managing 18 games amid a turbulent 2021 at the AIA Centre.
"It gave me the confidence that I can play at this level," he said.
"I'm still building on that confidence and I've got more to give, but coming in in round five and not getting dropped from there was good for my confidence. I still think I've got more to give and more to build."
Cameron and his management, Corporate Sports Australia, are yet to discuss a contract extension beyond 2022 with Collingwood head of football Graham Wright, but Cameron doesn't want to go anywhere.
"Look, I love Collingwood," he said. "I'm keen to stay but I let my manager sort that out, I haven't really thought about it. I just want to play my best footy this year and that will take care of itself."