After a frustrating career so far, Richard Darko said he believes he is playing his best football at NWS Spirit.
Darko has struggled to nail down consistent game time in his career. He’s suffered a series of injuries catalysed by an operation on his groins during his time at the Western Sydney Wanderers Academy. The operation saw him out of the game for more than three months which he said had a significant impact.
“What I went through took a mental toll on me,” Darko explained.
“With a big injury like that, you lose confidence in yourself, so you start to doubt your abilities a little bit.
“I think I’ve had probably every injury under the sun.”
Darko explained that last season, NWS Spirit FC coach David Perkovic got in touch with him about moving across from Bonnyrigg White Eagles to play for the club.
Since then, Darko has been an integral part of Perkovic’s team, while also putting his injury troubles behind him.
He credited his coach and the setup at Spirit, particularly the strength and conditioning staff for this turnaround.
“It’s a big family club and they provide the players with as many resources as they need in order to progress,” Darko said.
“I think the whole staff and ‘Perko’ himself have managed me very well to get the most they can out of me.
“He knows the type of player that I am – I’m very explosive. I’m a very skilful player so he manages my playing time, how long we train for, the load, and what we do at training.”
However, Darko said his positional change at the Spirit has also been of benefit.
Usually a winger, Darko has been operating as an attack-minded midfielder in the past few weeks which started in that miraculous comeback against Wollongong Wolves in round nine. The pacey attacker has featured in the role at plenty of the NPL NSW Men’s powerhouse sides including Marconi Stallions and Sydney United 58, but it’s all coming together at Spirit.
After coming on as a substitute for the final half an hour of the game with the side 3-1 down, Darko bagged a brace including a spectacular stoppage-time winner from near halfway – a moment that gave Darko and the club instant fame online.
It’s a goal Darko ranks among the best he’s scored, but he believes playing in that new role has been key to his recent good form.
“I just enjoy being in and around the game a little bit more,” he said.
“Previously in my position as a winger, there were long periods of time where I wouldn’t see the ball and get a touch of the ball, but through the middle, I feel like I can command things a little bit more and I find myself in more goalscoring opportunities.
“I’ve taken more shots as a midfielder in two games than I have the entire season as a winger.”
Spirit take on Sydney United 58 in round 12, the side they downed to take out the 2022 Waratah Cup. Darko found the net in that one as will be eyeing a similarly defining impact on Sunday.
Feature by Timothy Gibson, on Twitter @Timg123_