Plumbing new depths: Hind’s journey to Essendon’s half-back flank

Nick Hind thought he’d become an Essendon AFL player, and he ended up being right about that hunch. It just happened a couple of years later than expected.

The speedy half-back from Clunes had spoken to St Kilda before the 2018 AFL draft but expected he’d be picked up by the Bombers, for whose VFL team he had starred since being plucked from the Ballarat league in 2016.

Nick Hind at the Shrine of Remembrance.Credit:Simon Schluter

But the Saints got in late in the third-round, picking the then 24-year-old before the Bombers’ final couple of selections, used on Noah Gown – no longer at the club – and improving wingman Brayden Ham.

Asked how close he was to being drafted by the Dons that year, Hind said: “I think pretty close.”

“I sort of initially expected to be at Essendon, that was where I was hoping to be, [but] everything happens for a reason. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Saints,” Hind said.

But that Hind was on an AFL list at all is remarkable, because as a 21-year-old he was working as a plumber and playing local football.

Nick Hind at the Saints.Credit:Getty

Lightly framed, he had played a couple of games for the North Ballarat Rebels in what could have been his draft year of 2012, but broke his collarbone early in the season and was never really in draft contention.

He went off to play with Clunes alongside his brother and coached by his dad John, and that could easily have been that.

If Hind has one person to thank for the fact that he didn’t just end up a weekend bush champion, it is Bombers assistant coach Dan Jordan, a legend of Ballarat football who had joined Essendon’s VFL coaching panel in 2014, steadily rising up through the Dons’ coaching ranks. Jordan is now one of Ben Rutten’s assistants.

“I was playing at East Point, where Dan used to coach. He was involved in the VFL then. I played in an inter-league match for Ballarat at Whitten Oval and played pretty well. I actually did my ankle that day. I wasn’t going to be able to play for 10 weeks I think it was. But I was lucky enough to go down and have a chat with [Essendon] VFL and they said I could be added to the list later that year and I played a couple of games at the end of that year,” says Hind.

It was at the end of that year, 2016, that Hind decided to head to Melbourne.

“Initially coming down to Melbourne I didn’t think I’d play AFL footy or I’d get drafted, but I wanted to just come down and play the best footy I could, and VFL was that.

“I definitely don’t think I would be [here if not for Dan Jordan]. I was obviously a Ballarat country boy and that’s all I sort of knew. I really only knew of the path to play AFL football was through the North Ballarat Rebels, the under-18 system.

“I wouldn’t be here without him saying there is an opportunity here for you to play the best footy you could.”

One thing Hind always had was pace. He used it to great effect with the Dons’ VFL side and burst into public consciousness with a stunning run late in a VFL final against Richmond in 2018.

The Saints looked to the state leagues at the end of that year, drafting Robbie Young from South Australia and Matt Parker from Western Australia. Neither is still on an AFL list. Hind was in and out of the senior side but showed glimpses of his rare ability, albeit in a different position to the one to which he was used. St Kilda thought he’d be better utilised as a smaller forward.

“I loved it [at the Saints]. I’ve got a lot of friends there and had a great time there,” he said.

“Just the opportunity to play small forward was very different for me. I hadn’t really done it much.

Nick Hind (left) has started well at EssendonCredit:Getty Images

“It’s a pretty tough position on the ground. You can run a lot some games and not get a lot of the footy and then some weeks you will.”

So when new Bombers senior coach Rutten presented Hind with the vision of heading back to the Dons and having the chance to fill the void left by Adam Saad, Hind decided to seek a trade.

“It was really tough. Especially coming off the hub, us playing finals, and we’d built a really close group at the Saints. I was close with a lot of the coaches, and a lot of the guys in recruiting even,” Hind said.

“The opportunity to play half-back, where I hadn’t played before. Just being 26, and you never know how long you’ve got in the game.

“‘Truck’ [Rutten] definitely had a good balance of saying ‘there is definitely an opportunity at half-back’ but also not just handing it to me and making me work for it.”

Melbourne also showed interest at the end of last season, but had also been keener for Hind to play forward.

So back he went through the doors of Tullamarine.

“It was very strange. You leave a place and you probably don’t think two years later you’ll be back,” Hind.

He notes that while the Dons’ side has a different complexion from a couple of years ago, he’d actually spent plenty of time playing with the likes of Jordan Ridley, Aaron Francis, Mason Redman, Brandon Zerk-Thatcher and Jayden Laverde in the VFL, so there is a sense of familiarity within Essendon’s new-look backline.

In a side regenerating after the exodus of 2020, Hind is averaging 22 disposals and is a clear shining light. It comes as no surprise to some who watched him closely in the VFL that he is thriving in his natural role on a back-flank.

Hind says he had a quiet confidence he’d be able to produce this sort of football.

“I felt that if I got the opportunity to play half-back and train that position all pre-season that I’d be able to play this sort of footy and I’ll continue to grow that and keep working on my game defensively.”

‘I was playing local footy not that long ago and now to be playing at the ‘G on Anzac Day it’s really exciting.’

And on Sunday he has the chance to strut his stuff on one of football’s grandest stages.

“I’ve come back to Essendon and it’s one of those games you pencil in and think ‘Geez, I’d love to be playing that week.’

“Once you get a taste of VFL footy and realise you’re up to it and obviously get a taste of AFL footy you just get addicted to it and you want more.

“You do have to pinch yourself sometimes. I was playing local footy not that long ago and now to be playing at the ’G on Anzac Day it’s really exciting.”

Hind has put his other trade away for now, but knows it might be good to have down the track. A slight variant on the man who built the Essendon-Collingwood blockbuster, Hind is the Bombers’ half-back flank plumber.

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