Anchorman: The Legend Of Sean Darcy
The castle housing the AFL’s ruck duopoly has been breached.
At 23 years of age, Sean Darcy has bullied his way into the upper echelon of AFL ruckmen with consistent, dominating form that’s arrived a little earlier than many would have thought.
When thinking of the Docker’s career trajectory, it seemed as though it would take at least another season or two to become one of the better big men in the competition, particularly in the mould of Shane Mumford given his physicality and stature.
Instead, despite an injury hiccup in the backend of pre-season, the time for Darcy’s dominance has come in 2021 in the form of one of the most well-rounded ruckmen in the league- and it’s extremely refreshing to see.
The former second-round pick is averaging 16.7 disposals, 4.7 clearances, 4.5 marks, 3.3 tackles and 29.9 hitouts a game.
In the last month, those numbers are up to 20 touches, 6.75 clearances, 6.25 marks and 31.5 hitouts a game.
Comparing Darcy to Brodie Grundy and Max Gawn is only natural given the regard in which they’re both held, although their styles are dissimilar.
Grundy is athletic and plays like an extra midfielder, offering support around the ground and getting involved in scoring chains as a link player through the middle. He averaged 6 score involvements per game between 2016 and 2019 which is elite for a ruckman.
Gawn clearly has the height advantage and offers a contested marking option but is also particularly useful behind the ball for the Demons. The club’s captain gets into the right spot in the defensive half and almost always impacts the contest. He averages 2 contested marks a game across his whole career.
Darcy is more brutish and far bigger-bodied than his counterparts, but in 2021 he’s proven to be perfectly capable at minimum in matching certain aspects of both Gawn and Grundy.
He has shown an ability to dominate the ruck contest while his ability to push back defensively and influence contests has improved significantly, as has his athleticism which has seen him become an extra midfielder for Fremantle; he even started a couple of centre bounces on a wing against Hawthorn and is averaging 6.5 score involvements per game, more than Grundy ever has.
Darcy is also the only player in the competition to be averaging at least 4 score launches a game.
Clearly, the 202-centimetre Docker has benefitted enormously from being the main ruckman for the club so early in his career.
His breakout season has come in his fifth in the system, while Grundy became prolific around the ground in his fourth before taking the ruck game by storm in his fifth. Max Gawn took seven years to establish himself in the league.
Darcy is averaging 1.9 contested marks, a figure the Magpie has never reached, and 1.1 marks inside 50 a game, which neither Grundy nor Gawn have done in their respective careers. The former Geelong Falcon collects 63% of his possessions in a contested manner, which is also a higher mark than his ruck rivals.
Even as a junior, such prolific form seemed to not be in the future for Darcy.
He averaged 9.4 disposals and 27.2 hit-outs a game for the Falcons and due to being far bigger than any other underage player, it was his physicality and ability to win hit-outs that had him so highly rated.
In fact, in an interview at the Draft Combine with the TAC Cup website, Darcy stated he loved watching the aforementioned Mumford and that he clearly needed to work on his own endurance, marking and kicking.
In 2021, Darcy is rated above average in every marking statistic and for effective kicks, as well as disposals in general.
Such self-awareness and ability to self-motivate to act on such words is rare and speaks volumes of the character that the Dockers have committed themselves to.
The rapid development of their impressive young ruckman has been hugely beneficial to the club, even if the surface-level numbers aren’t eye-catching.
Fremantle has gone from being ranked 17th in both centre clearances and inside-50s to ranked 13th and 12th respectively. This season, their hit-out differential has jumped from 14th to 6th, while they've also leaped from 14th to 3rd where stoppage clearance differential is concerned.
Darcy’s hitout-to-advantage success rate is sitting at 35.4%, which is above average and only less than Nic Naitanui (39.4) and Shane Mumford (37.4) of all the established ruckmen, while his 2.9 inside 50s per game is elite for a big man.
These numbers indicate greater offensive flow for a team that's generally struggled to find consistency in attack previously, led by a midfield brigade that is as keen to get the ball going in the right direction as it is in working back defensively.
Much has been made about the true impact of hit-outs and ruckmen in general, but there is little argument to the fact that these players can often be the barometer for their teams.
A team doesn’t necessarily need an elite ruckman to be successful, but a team with an elite ruckman, or one that possesses elite traits, is always better for it.
Darcy has elevated himself into the conversation of being elite, having the best parts of some of the more influential, premiership winning rucks, as well as the very best the competition has to offer.
It’s an exciting time for Fremantle fans as their quality young core develops together into something special, and Darcy is most certainly the barometer.
Should this form continue, it'd difficult to argue against the Docker’s inclusion in the All-Australian squad at the very least, which would be the first step to officially sitting on the league’s ruck podium.
Fremantle are within finals contention and it’s largely on the back of the incredible rise of their young star.
Sean Darcy’s transformation from big-bodied ruck into one of the league’s most well-rounded competitors has come swiftly, and with great impact.
It’s only a matter of time before he’s more universally accepted as the best in the business.
Did you enjoy this article? Join our free mailing list to get the best content delivered straight to your inbox, or join the conversation by leaving a comment below or on the Stats Insider Twitter or Facebook page.