Darcy Fort has waited a long, long time for Friday night, when he will lead the Brisbane Lions ruck division against Melbourne at the MCG in an AFL semi-final.

Not just through his first season with the Lions. And not even his three years at Geelong. But 10 long years.

Finally it will all be worthwhile when the 28-year-old deputises for first-choice Lions ruckman and concussion victim Oscar McInerney in what will be his 26th game overall and the first final. 

It will be the realisation of a 10-year dream which began ahead of the 2012 AFL National Draft when the then 19-year-old was considered a certain draftee after an outstanding season with the Geelong Falcons in the then TAC Cup Under 18 competition.

Originally from South Barwon, outside Geelong, Fort was rated one of the best ruckmen in the competition, having averaged 10 possessions, 3.5 marks, 26 hit-outs and 3.4 tackles and won high praise for his tackling, tenacity and follow-up efforts.

The Herald Sun forecast he would be drafted late in the second round or early in the third round. Somewhere between 40 and 50.

So as the football fraternity gathered on the Gold Coast to choose the nation’s best young talent on 22 November 2012 Fort waited anxiously.

Brodie Grundy, drafted by Collingwood at #18 from SANFL club Sturt, was the first ruckman drafted before Richmond at #33 drafted Liam McBean, a Calder Cannons teammate and St.Bernard’s College school mate and close friend of Joe Daniher.

At #56 North Melbourne threw a second-chance lifeline to Daniel Currie, who had spent five years at Sydney without playing at AFL level, and at #75 St.Kilda chose Dandenong Stingrays ruck Lewis Peirce.

No Fort. Not even in the pre-season or rookie drafts that followed on 11 December, when untried Collingwood ruckman Jon Ceglar (now at Geelong) was picked up by Hawthorn, GWS took retired Port Adelaide ruckman Dean Brogan, Sydney basketball star Craig Moller went to Fremantle, Sydney picked up local junior Sam Naismith, Geelong cast-off Orren Stephenson went to Richmond and Ben Hudson, having come out of retirement to play with Brisbane in 2012, was taken by Collingwood after a second retirement and a commitment to a second comeback.

The non-selection of Fort was a snub the Geelong Advertiser described as ‘inexplicable’.

The 208cm ruckman, who had proved he could also fill key position roles in attack or defence, became a football journeyman. He played in the VFL with Werribee (2013) and Footscray (2014-15) before heading to Central Districts in the South Australian League (2016-18).

In three years he played 52 games with Centrals and represented SA against WA. Ahead of the 2018 National Draft he was described as “maybe the best mature-age ruck prospect in Australia”. And this time the experts were right.

By then the 23-year-old, working as a civil engineer in Adelaide, was drafted by Geelong with pick #65. He was the second ruckman taken after the GWS Giants chose Academy product Kieren Briggs at #34.

But as much as Fort was delighted to finally be in the AFL system he found himself the fourth ruckman at Geelong behind Queenslander Zac Smith, who had been recruited from Gold Coast in 2016, Rhys Stanley, recruited from St.Kilda in 2015, and Ryan Abbott, a basketball convert drafted late in 2016 and yet to play in the AFL.

In Round 9 2019, when Smith was injured and Stanley was a late withdrawal, Fort debuted alongside fifth-gamer Abbott against the Western Bulldogs at Geelong. He had 18 hit-outs and nine possessions and kicked three goals and looked right at home at the level.

But opportunities were scarce. He played twice more in 2019, five times in the Covid-shortened season of 2020 and not at all in 2021, when he was twice an emergency in the finals.

Brisbane, having got through 2021 with the now retired Archie Smith as their only recognised ruck back-up to McInerney after Stefan Martin’s switch to the Western Bulldogs, desperately needed a ruckman.

They traded pick #50 in last year’s draft and their round three pick in the 2022 draft for Fort and pick #41 last year, which became Jimmy Tunstill.


And when McInerney went down barely 90 seconds into last Thursday night’s elimination final against Richmond there wasn’t a Lions fan who wasn’t pleased they did.

Wearing the #32 jumper made famous by triple premiership player and 2001 Norm Smith Medallist Shaun Hart, Fort has been a value-plus pick-up through 17 games in the 2022 home-and-away season.

He had been a regular while Eric Hipwood completed his rehabilitation from a knee reconstruction, averaging 80% game time through the first 12 rounds for 10.5 possessions, 18.4 hit-outs, 1.8 tackles, 3.0 clearances and 3.5 one-percenters. Plus seven goals.

He was the medical substitute in Round 13, and after the Round 14 bye was left out in Round 15-16.

He was recalled for the Round 17 loss to Essendon, when he had 11 possessions and a goal after coach Chris Fagan had to make nine changes as Covid swept through the ranks and led the ruck against GWS in Round 18 when McInerney was suspended, picking up 19 possessions.

He was the sub in Rounds 19-20, and had played in the VFL side since until, after McInerney went down on Thursday night, he was withdrawn from the VFL semi-final side on Saturday to safeguard him for AFL duty this week.

And perhaps a piece of football trivia gold.

If the Lions selectors stick with elimination final debutant Darcy Wilmot, who last week became just the 15th ‘Darcy’ to play AFL football, and if Darcy Gardiner is fit, it would be the first time three players with the Christian name ‘Darcy’ have ever played together in the same side.

It’s very much a modern AFL phenomenon.  Darcy Daniher, Joe’s brother, was just the fifth ‘Darcy’ in AFL history when he played six games with Essendon in 2008-09. Darcy Lang, a 64-game Geelong and Carlton utility delisted at the end of 2020, was the fifth.

This year there are 10 – the Brisbane trio plus Port Adelaide’s Darcy Byrne, Collingwood’s Darcy Moore and Darcy Cameron, Essendon’s Darcy Parish, Gold Coast’s Darcy MacPherson, Adelaide’s Darcy Fogarty and Fremantle’s Darcy Tucker.

And if Brisbane were to meet Collingwood … it’d be a Darcy-off.

Darcy Gardiner is King ‘Darcy’ – his 152 games edges out Port 150-gamer Byrne-Jones.