Footy stars fly back to the nest

Footy stars fly back to the nest

But today they return to the ground as hardened professional footballers.

For Fremantle’s Stephen Hill and West Coast’s Jack Darling, this afternoon’s AFL pre-season match is a homecoming; a rare hitout at the place where their talent was realised.

Hill’s last match at the Falcons’ headquarters was for the club’s league side in its 2008 WAFL preliminary final loss to Swan Districts.

The fleet-footed athlete debuted as an 18-year-old in a round 17 home game that year.

Six years on, he remembers the nerves he felt emerging from underneath the Whinnen-Dempsey Stand as a league player for the first time.

‘I was a fairly skinny little kid playing against fully grown men,’ he said. ‘I was quite nervous at first, but it was a great experience.’

From skinny kid to toughened sportsman, nerves won’t be an issue for the 108-game AFL midfielder in the Dockers’ opening pre-season clash with the Eagles.

Hill, a product of Quinns Junior Football Club, expected a nostalgic return to where it all began.

‘I’ve got plenty of good memories of the ground, playing in development squads and later a few league games with some mates,’ he said.

A year after Hill’s debut, West Coast’s Darling burst onto the West Perth league scene. In just his second game as a 17-year-old, he kicked six goals for the Falcons against Peel during a country fixture in Corrigin.

Despite being colts age, he went on to play six senior games in 2009 and make 18 appearances in 2010.

Fittingly, a new phase in Darling’s football career could begin today, with the impact player tipped to move from the forward line into the midfield this season.

Like Hill, the former Sorrento Duncraig junior was upbeat about his return home.

‘I’m looking forward to getting back up there and will always be grateful to West Perth,’ he said.