Darcy Parish And Why Waiting Is The Hardest Part

No one would have thought that Darcy Parish would be ushering in a new era at Essendon as the club’s best midfielder.

Opportunities have opened up due to injury, and Parish has finally had an extended run in his preferred position, posting big numbers in the process.

In fact, in the five rounds since Round 5, Parish is averaging 35.6 disposals, 8.6 clearances, 6.8 inside 50s, 6.2 marks and 4.4 tackles.

His influence offensively has been superb for the Bombers, kicking 3 goals and providing 8 goal assists, while his 75 total score involvements is a club-best figure. 

While Essendon may well have only won four games so far this season and currently sit outside the top-8, their 104.9 percentage is indicative of a much better club, and one that currently houses the league's second-best PPG offence.  

And it's Darcy Parish who's been at the heart of so much of Essendon's improvement, with the #5 pick from the 2015 draft a perfect example of the remarkably contagious strain of impatience that's run rife across AFL fanbases for years. 

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For large parts of his career, Parish has hovered around the 20-disposal, 3-tackle average playing across a half-forward flank, in a position that puts an emphasis on kicking which happens to be an an inefficiency of his.

While many have been critical of the reigning Anzac Day Medalist, more leeway simply has to be given to a player who's had to wait six seasons to receive a full-time midfield opportunity.

It’s easy to forget that Parish is only 23 years of age, turning 24 in the backend of the season.

Expectation is often driven by the fact he's now played 103 games, yet the numbers show that midfield exposure makes a significant difference.

Over the last five weeks, Parish has accounted for 43 of Essendon’s 171 clearances, which equates to a massive 25.1% total. 

For comparison's sake, clearance beasts such as Hugh Greenwood (25.15%), Ben Cunnington (23.53%), Tom Liberatore (23.04%) and Clayton Oliver (22.04%) have posted those numbers over the course of the season, which only speaks to the rich vein of form the Surf Coast kid is in. 

Unfortunately, impatience isn’t a new concept that has only emerged alongside Parish’s name.

Callum Mills was taken two picks before Parish and acts as another perfect example, with their careers running parallel.

The Swan had been a good half-back at the club over the first 92 games of his career, with only small bursts in the midfield, despite the fact he was drafted to play the position.

Into his sixth season and Mills has elevated his game grandly for the Swans, going from 18 disposals and 3 tackles a game, to averaging 26.4 disposals and 5.5 tackles in 2021.

Jacob Hopper has posted good numbers in the past, but from the exact same group of picks as Mills and Parish, he's currently playing career-best footy as GWS’ premier midfielder and having a decidedly influential say on his team's current top-8 spot. 

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These 3 top-seven picks from the 2015 draft can be considered poster boys for the notion of each individual player developing at different rates, particularly when compared to others from the same crop.

Clayton Oliver, Jacob Weitering, Tom Doedee and Josh Dunkleyare all players that have excelled far earlier in their careers from the same draft class, while someone like Matt Flynn has only just debuted in 2021.

Ben Keays, Blake Hardwick, Ben McKay, Harry McKay and Jordan Dawson are all having breakout sixth seasons too.

Where Parish differentiates himself is the significance of his eye-catching performances to his team’s entertaining start to the season, where he can play to his strengths.

The 23-year-old is using the ball in a decent manner, operating at a 71.4% disposal efficiency, and while he is ranked 8th in the competition for turnovers, that's offset by the fact he ranks 12thin the competition for effective disposals.

He has blitzed his previous highs in his ability to impact in attack despite moving out of a predominately forward role.

Parish has upped his career-bests in disposals (21.1 to 29.7), marks (4 to 5), inside-50s (3.3 to 5.6), tackles (3.8 to 4.1), metres gained (263.5 to 440.3), score involvements (5.7 to 7.5) and clearances (4.2 to 7.5).

To illustrate his work rate, he's even averaging career highs in rebound 50s and intercepts.

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History is littered with examples of players taking a few seasons to breakout, to the point where the notion that a highly-rated talent must breakout by 21 is simply wrong.

Christian Petracca provided more highlights, but nowhere near the consistency of Parish in his first five seasons until his inevitable breakout in 2020, while Cameron Guthrie is only now playing incredible footy at 28 years of age.

Both these players had to be patient for midfield opportunities.

Even the great Patrick Dangerfield took five seasons to truly get going.

With many more examples heading back, they only prove to further solidify the fact that Darcy Parish’s breakout is legitimate, and that he's the man to lead this Bomber midfield going forward.

As an 18-year-old playing for the Geelong Falcons, Parish averaged 28 disposals and 7 clearances a game, and was lauded for his ability to take the ball forward and adopt an attacking mindset.

Now that he has captured similarly elite numbers and traits at AFL level, there’s no looking back for the Bombers.

It's taken a while for Parish to become the player many had hoped for, but to quote Nobel Prize laureate William Faulkner, “and sure enough even waiting will end…if you can just wait long enough.”  

The player himself has done the right thing by his club and is now reaping the rewards.

Even better, Essendon fans that have been critical in the past have been converted from non-believers to believers at the feet of Parish.

It’s the sort of season that attracts Brownlow votes, which would be a nice reward.

But individual accolades can be set aside, because Parish is playing the sort of footy that has put Essendon in a good position when players return and the whips are cracking.

There are brighter pastures ahead for a player with 100 games already under his belt.

Essendon have a good one in Parish.

They always have.

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Dem Panopoulos

Dem is a lover of sport with a keen eye for analytics. A passion for statistics that defies logic given his MyCricket numbers, you can see and hear him share his thoughts and views on Twitter @dempanopoulos

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