Darcy Fort’s footballing journey to become the Cats' sole ruckman for Geelong's 2020 season opener was a roundabout one.
The road he took included full-time work as a civil engineer, representative football snubs, a move interstate and six years of state league football.
It’s a path less travelled, and one that began with Fort being a self-confessed average footballer.
“I was a full back or even a back pocket. I wasn’t very good at football when I was younger. I was about average height, didn’t have great skills and wasn’t a good runner,” Fort says.
“Growing up I didn’t play any representative footy until I was 19 where I played Falcons my first year."
Salvation came in the form of a growth spurt for the now 204cm Fort.
“When I was about 16, 17 and 18 I had a big growth spurt,” he says.
“I remember one year I started off at full back and by the end of the year there was no one in the comp tall enough for me to play on so I had to play ruck.”
Fort’s fruitless TAC Cup campaign in Geelong led him into the revolving door of state league ruckmen, battling to find ruck opportunities while young AFL-listed players get the first crack at VFL level.
“I played at Werribee VFL for a year, then I played two years at Footscray VFL, went to a couple of State combines in that time and still wasn’t picked,” he says.
“I headed over to SA to play for Central Districts for a few years. The AFL dream was always in the back of the mind, but the move was more just trying to get a really good opportunity to play some consistent state league footy, something which I probably lacked at Footscray.”
After the Cats got in ahead of rival interest and nabbed Fort with selection 65 in the 2018 National Draft, his first year on an AFL list was a familiar experience.
Battling a logjam of ruck stocks as Rhys Stanley, Zac Smith and Ryan Abbott all spent time in the centre circle, Fort spent most of his year as a VFL full-forward, developing a penchant for big celebrations and he booted 23 majors in 13 state league outings.
The post-goal antics grew as the season progressed.
“Oscar Brownless and I just said at a point sort of three quarters of the way through the year, let’s just be really up and about and it came about as a result of that,” he says with a laugh.
“We just talked about it, and a couple games we came up with a few ideas. It got a bit more wild down the stretch."
As the celebrations continued to come, so did the opportunities as Fort cracked the senior side as a forward pinch-hitting in the middle, yielding five majors in three AFL games including three goals on debut.
He attributes his growth and development to those he’s worked with most closely with.
“It’s been really helpful just having so many coaches around and so many people invested in your development. Just giving you different things to work on has been massive,” he says.
“On every level I’ve gotten better on my weights to my fitness even just to general skill work and it’s picked up a bit.”
“I’ve worked really closely with Otto (Brad Ottens) for my ruck stuff, Rahls (James Rahilly) is working pretty hard on that as well and Cheese, Shane O’Bree, our VFL coach has worked really close with me especially last year in trying to teach me some forward craft.”
Fort’s time bouncing around the country’s lower tiers means he came to the Cats with a career which he continues to practice to this day.
“I was studying a bachelor of Engineering at Deakin and had a year left when I went over to Adelaide and managed to finish it off when I went over there,” he says.
“I went on to work full time for a company over there. In my last year in Adelaide I was working full time on a construction site, building a new highway in North Adelaide.”
“I still do a day a week of it now just to do something away from football and keep that part of my life ticking along.”
The experience has left him ready to grab his AFL opportunity with both hands.
“It gives me a greater appreciation of just how good it is here, just the opportunity I’ve got ahead of me. It can be pretty tough especially working full time and then committing to a state league team,” he says.
“It taught me how to be organised and make sure I’m doing everything right to ensure that by the time a game or training comes around I can switch on and just be in the moment.”
It seems to be paying off for the well-travelled Cat, who won the pre-season ruck battle with Rhys Stanley for a Round One berth.
Fort will be champing at the bit for training to resume and the season to get back underway.
“I feel a lot more prepared. Being a ruck this time around whereas last time I played forward, it’s a bit different,” he says.
“I feel a lot better having got through my second pre-season and I’m a lot more game-ready.
“It’s exciting, last year was very different having been a ruckman my whole career. Getting that opportunity to go forward and learn my forward craft (was great), but it’s great to be back doing what I do best.”