By JESS WEBSTER
By his own admission, Darcy Baron-Hay was ‘pretty lucky’ to even make a NSW/ACT Rams 60-player squad two years ago.
But it was genius move from coach Tadhg Kennelly which completely transformed the player he was.
Baron-Hay had played all his junior football in Sydney as a key forward up until one day when Kennelly threw him in defence to see if he would sink or swim.
It during a TAC Cup game only weeks out from the National Under-18 Championships in 2016 when Baron-Hay played his first match as a defender, and it would prove to be the turning point in his football career.
As Baron-Hay remembers, he took on the challenge and grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
“I was pretty lucky to make the Rams squad that year, and then didn’t get a game until two games before nationals,” he said.
“I ended up playing well in those two games and then got getting picked in the national’s side, and I guess I then just flourished as a defender.”
Baron-Hay, a member of the Sydney Swans Academy since he was 14, made his NEAFL debut for the Swans in 2015.
He stayed with the Swans last year as part of their NEAFL Development Squad, adding another 10 games to his tally, including the NEAFL Grand Final loss against the GIANTS.
The 19-year-old joined Sydney University this season where he has taken on some of the competition’s best forwards, and earned the NEAFL Rising Star nomination for his strong performance against Aspley on Saturday.
It seems to be only the beginning for Baron-Hay, who has overcome two shoulder reconstructions in the past three years.
Last summer was the first time in his entire career he had completed full pre-season training, and Baron-Hay is reaping the rewards.
“It was something ridiculous like 22 weeks of pre-season training,” he said.
“But you really part of the team and it’s definitely a different vibe to what I felt last year. I’m very happy here (at Sydney University).
“The pre-season for me was the big one, because it made you feel a lot more part of the team.”
The St Ignatius’ College Riverview junior has taken on some of the best full-forwards in the competition over the last couple of years.
Just this season, he’s been given the job on former Subiaco forward Hamish Shepheard (Southport), former Brisbane Lion Jackson Paine (Redland), and GIANTS star Jonathan Patton in his first four games.
Baron-Hay relishes the opportunity to test himself against the best, and sees improvement in himself with every passing match.
“It’s been good to be given that level of responsibility,” he said.
“I’m not really intimated by that. But it’s good when you’ve got people around like (teammate and Students defensive coach) Will Sierakowski dropping his man and always talking to you and helping you out.
“We’ve got so many ex AFL-listed players and it’s great, there is a whole depth of knowledge at the club.”
While Baron-Hay still harbours ambitions to play at a higher level, he is relishing the opportunity to play senior football with the Students.
Their 24-point victory over Aspley keeps the side undefeated, and Baron-Hay hopes the trend continues deep into 2017.
“I just want to have a great year with Uni. I’m really enjoying playing my footy with Uni at the moment and if I catch the eye of an AFL recruiter, that would be an added bonus.
“Before the game we had never won at Aspley, we had never gone 4-0, and it was ANZAC day, so there was a big build up.
“Someone was saying that even last year we would have probably lost that game, so it was a great win for us, and hopefully we can have more success this year.”
Baron-Hay is the second Sydney University player this year to earn a Rising Star nomination this season, after midfielder Callum McFadden last week.
The Rising Star is awarded to the most promising young talent in the NEAFL competition.
Nominees must be under the age of 21 and played less than 20 senior games (excluding games as AFL top-up players) at the start of the 2017 season.
Keep track of all of our 2017 Rising Star nominees here.
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