Shepparton News

Henderson reaps benefits of hard work

- By Josh Huntly

Former Echuca footballer Darby Henderson undertook a transforma­tive preseason with VFL club Williamsto­wn, working hard to mould himself into the player he needed to be to break into the side after an inconsiste­nt run.

Henderson set out to solidify his spot in the Gulls’ best 22 and played every game in the shortened 2021 season, stringing together solid performanc­es against Port Melbourne in round three (19 disposals, 2 goals) and Frankston a week later (26 touches, 1 goal).

After a break-out year, the fruits of his labour were duly recognised with Most Improved honours at the club’s end of season awards on September 23 — and it’s just the beginning for the reliable half-forward.

Henderson adopted the “head down, bum up” preseason approach this time last year after three seasons trying to hold down a spot in the blue and yellow’s best.

“It started around this time last year; I realised I was at the point where I needed to go somewhere, so it was head down, bum up,” Henderson said.

“To go from there and play every game was something I set out to do at the start of the year.

“I didn’t change anything in particular. I think it was just getting a run at the level and gaining a bit of consistenc­y.

“I think the most games I played consecutiv­ely before this year was two, so it makes it hard when you’re in and out (of the side).

“I found once I got the first three or four (games) under my belt I was a bit more comfortabl­e at the level.”

Having previously occupied a consistent spot in Echuca’s midfield over the span of his 35 senior games, a candid conversati­on with Seagulls coach Justin Plapp revealed Henderson might struggle to break into a midfield featuring eventual club champion Mitch Hibberd and former Richmond midfielder Adam Marcon.

“When I first got to Willy in 2018 I was more of a midfielder, and that’s sort of all I really knew,” Henderson said.

“Plappy (Justin Plapp) said ‘mate, the midfield’s pretty stacked, so if you’re going to play you’re going to have to learn how to play forward’.

“I made myself comfortabl­e with that. It was tough at the same time, but to know how to play that now is going to be beneficial going forward.”

Henderson’s Seagulls finished the year with a 6-2 record and sat on the cusp of finals before the VFL was cancelled for a second straight year due to COVID19 restrictio­ns.

The amalgamati­on of the North East Australia Football League and the VFL for the 2021 season, effectivel­y turning both leagues into a vast east coast competitio­n, also heralded a new challenge for state footballer­s.

For Henderson, it was an exciting prospect in a strange year of football.

“It was pretty exciting to realise as a semiprofes­sional athlete you’re going to be travelling interstate,” he said.

“It was bizarre at the same time; we had a few trips planned and I was thinking ‘geez, I’ve got uni and I’ve got to get on the plane’ and stuff like that.

“Both our trips got cancelled this year, so it was otherwise pretty much normal.’’

Henderson is now eyeing off a full season in the VFL after inking a one-year extension with Williamsto­wn in July.

“It was great to play every game, but at the end of the day it was only nine games,” he said.

“The goal of mine is to play all 20 games.

“It’s taken a few years to get my spot, but hopefully now we’re all good to go.”

 ?? ?? Moving on up: Murray Bomber turned Williamsto­wn player Darby Henderson is the Seagulls’ most improved.
Moving on up: Murray Bomber turned Williamsto­wn player Darby Henderson is the Seagulls’ most improved.

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