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The Roar


550 games and change - Is time up for Andrew Gaff and Jack Darling?

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Roar Rookie
28th March, 2024

When West Coast picked up Andrew Gaff and Jack Darling in the 2010 draft, the Eagles would’ve been chuffed if both players went on to rack up 150-odd games for the club.

More than 10 years later, Darling (278) and Gaff (276) currently sit third and equal fourth for the most games played for the Eagles.

Their longevity and resilience have been remarkable. Where the two players sit in the pecking order of greats to have donned the blue and gold will be grist for the mill for armchair experts to mull over. However, seemingly without warning Gaff and Darling’s careers have abruptly stalled.

There were some worrying signs last season. Gaff had his lowest possession count since his debut year and Darling had his least productive return since 2015, kicking only 26 goals.

From all reports, Gaff had a stellar pre-season, so no one expected the two-time All-Australian to have an absolute stinker in round one against Port Adelaide. The 31-year-old picked up a meagre four touches before he was subbed out of the game in the third quarter.

West Coast Eagles midfielder Andrew Gaff and coach Adam Simpson

Andrew Gaff of the Eagles and Adam Simpson. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

The 2015 John Worsfold medallist was not designed to break lines with a burst of breathtaking speed but, against Port, he displayed the pace of a recent Martin Scorsese film. During his peak, the looping left-footer was one of the best, hard-running link-up midfielders in the AFL.

He has finished in the top 10 of the Eagles’ best and fairest 11 times, so his consistency over the past decade or so has been staggering.


After the Port game, you expected coach Adam Simpson to say Gaff was subbed out after he tweaked an ankle or knee early in the game. But the speed with which the Eagles announced their star wingman would not be playing the following week against GWS was jarring. It was as if the club wanted to protect Gaff from a mauling in the media.

It would be an imbecilic overreaction to suggest Gaff’s days are numbered after one poor game, but the club would have to be alarmed by his blunt ineffectiveness.

Darling’s game against Port was just as dire. He picked up four possessions and kicked just the solitary goal after a “Joe the Goose”, from teammate Jamie Cripps with Darling alone in goal square.

It’s highly unlikely the 30-year-old would have been picked for the Giants game if star forward Oscar Allen hadn’t banged up his knee, ruling him out for at least half of the season.

The four-time leading Eagles goal kicker didn’t trouble the scorers against GWS and had only one mark for the game.

Jack Darling of the Eagles

Jack Darling and recently retired Eagle Shannon Hurn. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)


Simpson had previously said Darling was the first one targeted when he went through a dry spell but even he would be running out of excuses for him. The All-Australian is one of the most maligned players in the AFL but the power forward has been a prodigious talent for West Coast.

Unfortunately, his moments of brilliance have been overshadowed by his comical on-field blunders. West Coast fan’s love affair with Darling has been more tumultuous and chaotic than Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s marriages but what gets overlooked is the veteran key forward has kicked 511 goals for the club. He is only three majors behind Peter Sumich (514) for the second-most goals in West Coast’s history.

Yet, when Darling puts in a shocker the fans react with ambivalence rather than anger. Supporters are just biding their time.

Simpson would desperately want to play the kids, but he also needs the help of a bunch of senior players to nurture them.

If West Coast continues to persist with horrendously out-of-form players like Gaff and Darling, the club will not just be spinning its wheels, the car will be on blocks going nowhere.

Not all players get to leave on their own terms. The ending can sometimes be awkward, brutal, and swift. Gaff and Darling have been magnificent servants of the club but after 14 gruelling seasons of AFL, their bodies appear to have suddenly given up.


West Coast are at the start of one of the longest rebuilds in the history of the club. If the Eagles and Simpson are hell-bent on returning to playing finals in a few years’ time, there must be an epochal shift at the selection table. But football isn’t always about robust common sense.

The Eagles can no longer afford to daydream their way through a rebuild, so sadly for Gaff and Darling, their time just might be up.