‘Speedster Darcy within sight of AFL dream…’ by KB Hill




November is dreamtime for young AFL hopefuls…….

The attention of hundreds of kids around the nation is now focused on the upcoming Draft…..…For most who have nominated, sadly, it’ll end in tears……..But for the 60 or so who are fortunate enough to have their names called out, theirs will be a mixture of exhilaration and apprehension……

I’m drawn to this assumption as I’m pottering around the Findlay Oval and spot a young bloke gliding across the turf……the family’s white Border Collie does its best to keep pace with him….

It’s Darcy Wilson…


This has been Darcy’s regular haunt for most of his life……In effect, he’s grown up around the place…..

No surprise really……Both of his parents forged lasting reputations with the Wangaratta Rovers….Mum, Michelle, played in the club’s first two Netball premierships…..Dad, Mick, is a Hall of Famer, quadruple-premiership player and veteran of 316 senior games.

And three of his uncles played significant roles in a Golden Era for the Hawks……Joe and Andrew Wilson (also Hall of Famers) and Paul Grenfell, amassed a total of 560 games and 9 flags……Sisters Kelsie and Brylee have both starred on the netball court……His grandparents on both sides have been heavily involved administratively and remain staunch supporters of the Club…..

So, crusty old Hawks, who became accustomed to the kid flicking a footy from hand-to-hand as he watched training….. and booting the Sherrin post-match until darkness intervened….naturally licked their chops that this future champ would help form the backbone of the Club for years to come….





Joe, Andrew and Mick Wilson, at the forefront of Wang Rovers’ 1991 Premiership celebrations.


Darcy, Brylee and Kelsie Wilson help coach Mick celebrate Tarrawingee’s 2008 premiership.


It became obvious early on that Darcy’s slender frame housed an athletically-gifted all-round talent.

He was a Hurdles Gold Medallist at the State Primary School titles and went on to represent Victoria in 800 metres and Hurdles at the National championships……

At around the same time he played for Vic Country, alongside current Top-10 Draft tips Harley Reid, Nick Watson and Nate Caddy, at the Under-12 Australian Primary Schools Football Carnival in Darwin.

And four years later he steamed in to open the bowling for Victorian Country in the 2021/22 Under 17 Emerging Talent matches.

He also figured in Rovers-United-Bruck’s dramatic WDCA premiership win later that season, but eventually came to the realisation that cricket would have to take a back-seat to his increasing football commitments…..


Locally, Darcy’s footy had progressed from Junior League club Tigers… to Wang Rovers Thirds…to the Murray Bushrangers.

He produced enough in a season as an Under 16 Bushie, then in 13 appearances in the Coates Under 18 Talent League in 2022, to prompt gnarled old recruiters to scribble furiously in their notebooks as they watched him in action.

But, closer to home, you could hardly escape the romantic undertones when he made his senior debut with the Rovers in Round 7, 2022……It was a promising-enough display, but the First Semi-Final later that year provided him with an unforgettable moment in Brown and Gold.

The Hawks had fallen as far as 37 points behind a rampant Albury in the third quarter before they produced a Houdini-like performance to fight their way back into the game…….With just two minutes remaining the elusive 17 year-old grasped his chance, grabbed the pill and kicked the sealer, a right-foot snap from deep in the forward pocket……

By now, he was being touted as one of the hottest prospects in the land…….

A kid who oozes class and excitement, and is blessed with a wonderful mix of speed and endurance, “ was of the rave review about him as he entered his Draft Year……

I couldn’t help comparing the hoopla surrounding the lad to his famous great-uncle’s low-key initiation to League ranks some 51 years ago…….





Ron Joseph was doing his due diligence as North Melbourne’s recruiting guru when he attended the O & M Grand Final in 1972. His primary target was a highly-skilled Wangaratta Rovers youngster called John Byrne, but the longer the game progressed the more he was taken by Byrne’s team-mate, Michael Nolan.

At 194cm and a gigantic 117kg, the lumbering Number 13 was hardly the archetypal VFL recruit, but the way he controlled the ruck duels, palmed so deftly and contested so strongly impressed the hard-bitten Joseph.

‘Big Mick’ was playing his 101st O & M game……was on the verge of picking up his second Club B & F, and was adored within the Hawk camp……..Yet he was dismissed off-handedly by opposition clubs as ‘too slow and cumbersome’…..He had not yet been considered deserving enough to wear the League’s representative guernsey.

The upshot was that Joseph nabbed both Nolan and Byrne who were to become premiership players for the ‘Roos. But he was derided by new coach Ron Barassi when ‘The Galloping Gasometer’ was first sighted on the training track at Arden Street…..

“Who’s the fat fellah,” ‘Barass’ reportedly snorted……When informed that it was one of the new recruits from the Zoning area he said: “That’s why this Club’s never won anything…….Fancy bringing down blokes like that…..”


Coach Barassi and his ruck hero Mick Nolan, after the 1975 VFL Grand Final.


There’ll be no such criticism levelled at Mick’s great-nephew’s fitness or body-shape, wherever he lands……He demonstrated in the early stages of the 2023 season that pace was his greatest asset:

“A running-machine who has been racking up touches, and is fast firming as a top-end draft selection…….”.

As the Bushrangers struggled to get wins on the board he was a stand-out with his ability to get away from stoppages then drift forward to kick goals.

He played in all four of Vic Country’s Under 18 National Championship games – losses to South Australia and the highly-rated Allies, and solid wins over WA and Vic Metro……. It further re-enforced his standing……

“Does his best work with the Sherrin in hand, and his marking is also a strength…….Needs to improve his contest work, though, which was a consistent comment from recruiters….”

Darcy started as a high half-forward at the Championships, snagged a few goals, then had an occasional run in the midfield…….overall, he says, he was reasonably happy with his form in the Big V guernsey…..

Despite his footy commitments this year, which have been nothing short of a whirlwind, he has been successfully negotiating his Year 12 studies at the Alex Rance Academy in Wangaratta:

“It’s been terrific,” he says……”I’ve got lots out of it and all the boys are a bit disappointed that it’s shutting down…..”

He also spent a week during the season immersed in the Richmond Football Club program…….

“Being part of the group…. being introduced to fellahs like Dustin Martin and Trent Cotchin, and watching how they go about things……It was a great experience…..”

As was the thrill of representing the Tarkyn Lockyer-coached AFL Academy in matches against Port Adelaide’s SANFL side during the ‘Gather Round’ in South Australia……and against VFL team Carlton…..

“He’s a super-athlete in how he runs and works up the ground, then gets back as a high half-forward, or playing on a wing…….”

Darcy’s form following the National Titles seemed to go to another level. His last half of the season saw him take out the Murray Bushrangers Best & Fairest. He was also named in the Coates Talent League ‘Team of the Year’……..

As attention turned more and more towards the Draft so did the media exposure:

“He uses the ball really well, and what we like about him is that he finishes his work in front of goal……..He has been really impressive throughout the year…….including when he played for the Academy……”

Wilson has been labelled a better runner than Carlton’s Ollie Hollands…….has football IQ and is a thumping kick………”

Not that he gets too carried away with the stuff that’s written…….”I’ve been around footy all my life…..From time to time you read articles that give you a bit of a rap or pick holes in your game…….It doesn’t worry me…”

“There’s plenty of people in the ‘Bushies’ or at the Rovers who I listen to……..They’re pretty honest about how I’m going about my footy…..”

Darcy’s solitary appearance for the Rovers this season came against North Albury in Round 18. He set the game alight in the first quarter with a couple of goal-assists, booted one himself and continued to impose himself……The packed crowd on the deck of the Maroney Pavilion roared their approval and consented: “The kid’s got it…”

They were also cognisant of the fact that they were probably witnessing his last appearance in Brown and Gold for some time……





He turned heads at the recent Draft Combine when he produced the best running Vertical Jump and finished second in the 2km Time-Trial.

“I loved the challenge of going up against the best talent in the land and being able to compete with them,” he says.

And when he wasn’t doing the physical stuff at the Combine he was being interviewed by Clubs or doing media, including one filming segment for Fox Footy.

He has also taken the regular visits from AFL Recruiting officials in his stride and has spoken to 17 Clubs (all except Collingwood).

“Most of them come to our house and speak to the family, or it might be a Zoom call if they’re interstate……..They just go through your family situation…..determine what you’re like as a person….what you like doing outside of footy….”

“It’s just stuff that they need to know before they consider drafting you……They’re pretty informal chats, really……You get accustomed to them….”

Those who have followed him at close-quarters this season have been impressed by how hard he has worked at improving his football skill-set…….and at how level-headed he has remained, despite the exposure that has come his way….

“The thought of possibly being drafted is exciting,“ says the quietly-spoken ‘Dancing Darcy’….”because I’ve dreamt of playing League footy for years…..”



To read more on the Almanac site by KB Hill click here.


This story appeared first on KB Hill’s website On Reflection and is used here with permission.
All photos sourced from KB Hill’s resources unless otherwise acknowledged.

To read more of KB Hill’s great stories on the Almanac, click HERE.

To return to our Footy Almanac home page click HERE.

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

Do you enjoy the Almanac concept?

And want to ensure it continues in its current form, and better? To help things keep ticking over please consider making your own contribution.

Become an Almanac (annual) member – CLICK HERE.

One-off financial contribution – CLICK HERE.

Regular financial contribution (monthly EFT) – CLICK HERE.

Leave a Comment