Henderson reaps benefits of hard work
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.”