The black boots say it all about Darcy Gardiner. In an era of wildly colourful footwear he’s been the epitome of unfashionable and understated. But never under appreciated or undervalued.
For 10 years he’s been a team-first, no-fuss, no-frills defender who plays on opponents of varying size with equal efficiency and reliability. A real ‘meat and potatoes’ backman who just gets the job done.
And now he’s a member of the elite of the elite of the Brisbane Lions … a life member.
Originally from Queenscliff, a seaside resort of about 1500 permanent residents on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula, Gardiner was recognised in this very special fashion at the 2023 Brisbane Lions Club Championship dinner held tonight at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre.
It was a crowning moment in a career that began 11 years minus 45 days ago tonight, on 21 November 2013, as the Gold Coast Convention Centre hosted the 2013 AFL National Draft.
In the lead-up to the draft AFL website draft expert Cal Twomey described Gardiner as “the best tall back in the (2013) draft” and recounted a story from the 2013 AIS/AFL Academy Tour of Europe when, in Copenhagen, he had an engrossing battle playing on 200cm key forward Tom Boyd.
Undersized as he was, Gardiner more than held his own against a player remembered in football folklore for three special things – (1) he was the No.1 pick in the 2013 Draft to the GWS Giants but played only nine games with the expansion club, (2) he was the match-winner in the Western Bulldogs’ 2016 grand final win over Sydney in his 38th game, and (3) he retired after 61 games due to mental health battles.
Listing Gardiner’s strengths, Twomey said: “He's a competitor (who) really hates being beaten, an essential trait when playing on opponents who are often bigger and stronger than him. He's a good spoiler, has courage, and is generally a reliable mark and kick when starting his team's rebound”.
In a rare interview ahead of the draft, Gardiner identified himself as an Essendon supporter whose childhood heroes were Bombers bookends Dustin Fletcher and Matthew Lloyd, and credited his parents for his competitiveness.