Essendon midfielder Darcy Parish. Picture: AFL Photos

DARCY Parish is the man of the moment. He leads the AFL for disposals and clearances after three rounds and is also the top free agent in the competition.

Essendon's star midfielder sat down with Cal Twomey for Cal's Q&A this week to discuss his future, the Bombers under Brad Scott, his rise at the club and whether he's still much help on his family's farm.

The Bombers are 2-1. What have you seen as the strengths so far?

Just the clarity and game style Brad has simplified for us. We were fairly confused last year and we were taking it out on one another at times which wasn't great and it wasn't fun and enjoyable to come into the club. I think 'Scotty' has just taken the reins and he sat us down at the start and put the expectations on us with what he wants from us as a group. It's made it really clear and simple for us to deliver out on the field. We had to go to work on our defence because it's been poor the past couple of years and I think it's shown in the first few games of the season that our defence has improved but still has a long way to go.


You say it wasn't fun coming into the club. Describe last year.

The year before we made finals so we were probably expecting to go to another level in 2022 but it didn't go that way. We'd come in after bad losses just searching and searching for answers and we'd have these meetings and there wasn't really anything resolved out of them. It's been a clear and fresh start for us and we're all on board and driving whatever Scotty's put in front of us.

What are your hopes for this year, then? You've seen some dips and rises across your eight years.

I just want that real consistency, the ability to compete and be in games for longer. I feel like we've got a real trust in the group that we're in any game this year and I want us to compete and keep improving. It's going to be a long journey but we've already seen some areas of improvement and we just need to keep growing and buying in and who knows, we could be anywhere at the end of the year which is exciting.

Darcy Parish and Andrew McGrath chat after Essendon's round three, 2023 match against St Kilda. Picture: AFL Photos

You've had a really strong start to the season. Where did you want to take your game this year?

Last year I was putting up the same numbers but you cop it because you're losing games and not having an impact and that sort of thing. If we can win some games you get a little bit of recognition individually but that team success is ultimately what I'm here for and what I want to achieve in the group because we haven't had that in my seven or eight years. I'm really pushing towards that and growing my game fully with a good balance. Defensively I've been working super hard on my game and with my positioning as well.

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I'm sure you were on Brad's list of coffee catch-ups when he was first appointed coach. What has he wanted from you and vice versa? 

I caught up with him a couple of weeks after he signed and he sat down with most of the senior guys at the club getting a feel for what the last couple of years have been like. The thing with Scotty is he just wants us to play to our strengths and to get the best out of each of us on the list. As a player, that's all you want to hear from your coach and he's fully in, he values everyone and wants to get the absolute best out of them. He told me I could be one of the top-five mids in the comp and to keep striving and setting the example at training and that's doing my job for the team. He's had our full respect and trust. He fizzes us up before games which is great.

Brad Scott addresses his Essendon players during round two, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

John Worsfold was your first coach and a couple of days before the draft you told the Bombers you wanted to go there. Three months later the club gets hit by probably the worst moment in its history when players are banned for anti-doping charges. How do you remember that time?

I was buzzing when I first got to the club. I had some absolute gun midfielders to learn off. I had Jobe (Watson) teaching me all these crafty things around stoppages, (Dyson) Heppell, Zachy (Merrett) was getting to the level. I remember we were sitting in The Hangar having lunch and the (suspension) news got broken. It was weird as I had only just started getting to know the boys and a lot of the guys had spent years and years with them. It was a real dark place on that day. I remember we got told and then we all left the club and got together for a bit of a drink together because we didn't know when we were going to see them again or what their direction was going to be for them next. I got a lot of exposure that year that maybe I might not have if those guys were here because we had a pretty good side with them, but we got the likes of James Kelly over and I've got a great relationship with him and leaned on him. There were no expectations on us and we were going out there to have some fun.

Essendon supporters all remember your first goal – the sealer against Melbourne in round two that year against all odds. How special was that day?

It was crazy because nobody expected us to win one game that year and to get the win in round two was pretty special. 'Zacka' (David Zaharakis) had the ball on the 50m arc and he has said that he didn't want to pass it but luckily there were about three or four who pressed him and I found myself open and slotted one. I tried to get my mates tickets to that game and somehow the tickets weren't waiting at the gate for them so they keep giving me shit about it as they weren't there to experience it. I think they went to the pub, so they probably had a good day.


From there through to 2020 your midfield time was a big point of discussion as you were played across half-forward. How challenging was that period?

It was frustrating. I know you have to do your time but I think I was ready probably year four or five and you probably do think you're ready straight away to tackle the midfield stuff. You see a lot of young guys come in now and that's all they want but I think you've got to do your time a little bit and build the trust amongst the group. Playing forward I learned some different patterns so it's probably helped me out in the midfield now but I was waiting patiently.

2021 was the big breakout year – All-Australian, second in the best and fairest, fifth in the Brownlow Medal. Did you always believe you had that level in you?

My pre-seasons were building and building and I knew it was a matter of time before I got that exposure. Looking back on it I'm thankful it all happened and worked out the way it did because I was building over the years.

Darcy Parish looks on during the 2021 Brownlow Medal function in Melbourne. Picture: AFL Photos

That was the season your partnership with Zach Merrett really clicked. Tell me about your connection on and off the field.

Zachy's always been someone I've looked up to. Year on year he's always held himself at a high level. We complement each other really well. Every time I go to pick up a ground ball he's always there, he reads the game so differently to everyone else. I'm always asking him questions about what he's seeing out there. He's awesome to play with and he sets the example with his pressure acts as well.

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There was a shift in sentiment about your game last year. How did you find that criticism?
It hurts, because the year before you're playing the exact same footy it feels like and you're getting all this recognition. It's just an opinion at the end of the day and I'm just trying my best for the team and doing absolutely all I can to help us get wins. As long as I don't go away from that and try to impress people outside the club then I think I'll keep doing my thing and internally everyone is valuing that stuff so that's all that's important to me.

You're the No.1 free agent in the game. What is the plan with your contract decision this year?

It's coming to that time and it's all new to me. I'm one to take a back seat in it and let my footy do the talking. I'm contracted here for this year and I want to absolutely get the best out of myself and for this team this year. That's where my focus is and I think if my footy does the talking at the end of the day then hopefully it will all take care of itself.

Brad has spoken about creating the environment where it's an easy decision for you. How much of your call is going to be about what you can see about the environment?

[It's] massive in the decision and the respect I've got for Brad in this short little time and the direction he's trying to take us in as a group is really enjoyable and something I'm buying into right now. It's super important, you've got to have a clear direction and he's given me that this year so I'm really enjoying Scotty and hopefully the decision is easy at the end of the year.

Brad Scott at Essendon training on January 20, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Will it be one you hold on until later in the season?

I think so, yeah. It's only been a short little period of time with Scotty but everything he's putting forward has been good and I've touched on the respect I've already got for him. I'm really enjoying it so hopefully it continues to blossom and grow and it takes care of itself.

It's the biggest decision of your footy career. How do you set yourself for that? 

It's seeing how the year plays out, especially with my relationships here and the new coaching system and the direction we're going as a group, which is important. It's also your family and your partner's decisions as well is really important to me. Happiness and loyalty is super important but it's a big decision for me and the biggest one I'm probably going to have to make but my footy's going to do the talking and the rest will take care of itself.

Darcy Parish tackles Noah Anderson during round two, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Have you spoken to Zach about his similarly big free agency call two years ago and how he handled that?

Little bits and pieces. He had a massive call to make and the club had an alright year that year, but he's someone who I'm going to lean on throughout this time but I think at the end of the day he's going to say 'You need to make the right decision that's best for you'.

Is there a bit about having a real trust in where things are headed at Essendon?
I think so. The last few years it's been there, it hasn't been there and I haven't been super confident with what we've been putting out there. I think I just want to get back to that trust in where we're going as a group, trust in the things we're doing out on the field and building that connection amongst the coaches and my teammates. I'm really looking forward to the year ahead and where it takes us.


You're in a group of players in their mid-20s who have been given some responsibility as leaders outside of the official leadership group. How have you enjoyed that?

Scotty touched base with all the senior guys and wanted us to lead by example. That's been the thing for me – going out there, training well, having a real high level of intensity and effort and leading from the front. I'm not much of a talker so I like to put my things into action and I think I've started that pretty well.

It's been a big year for you already after marrying Grace in January. Tell me about her influence on your life and footy.

She's been there since halfway through my first year. The rest is history. She's been great for me and kept me really level-headed. I haven't been much of a talker but if you know Grace she can chew the fat a bit. It's opened me up to communicate and speak about how I'm feeling most times and after all the troubles of the past couple of years having someone to talk to and reflect with on things I haven't spoken to anyone about has been great for me. She's a rock of mine and great to have in my corner.

What's a good day off for you two?

Our routine after a game is going down the beach, have a dip in the water, do my recovery, have some brekky. We love eating out quite a bit. If I'm not with her I'm playing golf.

Just on that – what's your favourite restaurant in Melbourne? And your golf handicap?

I love Farmer's Daughters. We went there a couple of months ago and they've got some different dishes there which is cool. My golf handicap is 14. It's coming down slowly, I want to get it under 10.

Everyone knows you grew up on the farm – which I know you blame me for after we did a video of you pre-draft shearing sheep with your dad. When's the last time you had the clippers out?

Probably in that clip! Grace actually put it on the other day and it was bloody funny reflecting on it. We've obviously got a great relationship me and you and looking back on the stories and that film we did, I've copped a bit of hate for it because the boys don't think I've ever been back on the farm since. I reckon my dad was tearing up a little bit re-watching the video. He doesn't do that much – he was a sob at the wedding – but it's weird how the years have flown by. I was just a country kid playing footy and now I'm living up in the big smoke doing my dream.


Last one – does the buzz of seeing kids with No.3 on their Essendon jumpers ever fade for you?

Not at all. I'm seeing it more and more at training and little kids screaming out when we walk up the race. It's crazy to think I was one of those kids once upon a time screaming out for my childhood heroes and now to do that for them is really special.