The memory has faded, but Sam Darcy can vaguely recall running through the banner as a four-year-old in full Western Bulldogs kit ahead of his old man’s final game for the club in 2007.
The now 19-year-old created a much more vivid memory when he followed in his famous father’s footsteps by returning to Marvel Stadium last Saturday in the same kit. This time as a player.
Luke Darcy departed the AFL after playing 226 games in the red, white and blue, earning a Charles Sutton Medal, Leigh Matthews Trophy and All-Australian jumper, after being recruited to Footscray as a father-son recruit following the 133-game career of his old man, David Darcy.
Chris Grant and Sam Power played in that game against the Kangaroos. They are still at the club, now in different roles as the Western Bulldogs’ head of football and list manager respectively. Scott West was also in action at the end of his career, with his son, Rhylee, playing alongside Darcy against Fremantle on the weekend.
The father-son rule was first introduced more than 70 years ago and has evolved many times. The AFL increased the minimum number of games played by the father to 100 in 2003, before a bidding system was introduced four years later. It has survived all the changes the game has faced, proving romance isn’t dead in football.
The Western Bulldogs have reaped the rewards of ancestry more than others in recent times. Of the 32 current players who arrived in the AFL via the father-son rule, six call the Whitten Oval home – Mitch Wallis, Tom Liberatore, Lachie Hunter, Zaine Cordy, Rhylee West and Darcy.
“When I called Dad on Thursday after the training session, I haven’t really seen him get emotional that often, so to see him break down like that was pretty cool. It was an amazing 48 hours. The family was very proud,” Darcy told AFL.com.au this week.
While the Western Bulldogs almost extinguished its finals chances against the Dockers, Darcy was one of the few highlights in the 17-point loss, finishing with 10 disposals, eight marks and seven intercept possessions down back.
“It felt amazing out there running through the banner, playing with all the boys. It was something I’ll never forget. It was a disappointing result, but it was just good to get a taste of what AFL footy is like,” he said.
Darcy was selected with pick No.2 in last November’s NAB AFL Draft after standing out as a key forward and ruckman in underage football with Scotch College, Vic Metro and the Oakleigh Chargers.
But after playing in defence for Footscray and starting his AFL career down back, the 207.5cm old-fashioned utility – he has grown three or four centimetres since he arrived at the kennel – is happy to play wherever Luke Beveridge needs him right now.
“I’m just going to have the mentality that wherever ‘Bevo’ thinks best fits my strengths I’ll put my hand up. You never know what will happen in the future, but I really enjoyed playing down back on the weekend. We’ll see what happens in the future,” he said.
If Saturday is anything to go by, it’s not hard to see why Darcy is trying to model his game on a combination of three athletically gifted stars who all play different positions.
“There are quite a few different players that I try and take things from how they play the game, like how Aaron Naughton attacks the footy and flies in the way,” he said. “The way Nic Naitanui can follow up at ground level as a ruckman and act like an extra midfielder. Darcy Moore is one down back. I want to try and bring what they bring to the table.”
The reason it took until round 21 for the AFL to first lay eyes on the athletic beanpole was because Darcy arrived at the Western Bulldogs with a stress fracture in his foot. It wiped out the first half of his first season and took nine VFL games to build up his fitness and form to a point where Beveridge couldn’t wait any longer to pick him.
“It was definitely a tough time not being able to train on the track with the boys, but I had great support networks at the club and family at home who were always there for me,” Darcy said.
“Even though I wasn’t able to train, it was still a great place to come in every day and work out my rehab with really supportive medical staff who gave me a clear plan of what was ahead and the best approach to get back out there. It all worked out in the end, but it was quite a tough time and a long period. Good to come out the other side.”
Memories fade over time. Some inside the Western Bulldogs still remember David Darcy. Almost all remember Luke Darcy. Now they are excited about the memories ahead with Sam Darcy.