Nick Hind is in the midst of a stellar season.
The fleet-footed Essendon recruit has announced himself as one of the competition’s most damaging half-back dashers, and is playing a key role in the Bombers’ exciting push up the ladder.
But for a younger Hind, whizzing past opponents under the MCG’s bright lights was once a distant reality.
A plumber with a pipe dream, Hind was already a year into his apprenticeship when he was picked up by the North Ballarat Rebels to play in what was then known as the TAC Cup.
But his draft dreams were soon hindered by a broken collarbone, and, in any case, he lacked enthusiasm for the serious aspects of top-level under-18 football.
“I didn’t really enjoy the TAC Cup pathway. I probably wasn’t mature enough at the time, to be honest,” Hind said.
“I was just a country kid, and all I knew with footy was having fun. I didn’t really know about any systems or structure and all of that kind of stuff.
“I just went back and played some footy out at Clunes (36 kilometres north of Ballarat) where my old man was the coach, and I had some family members out there.”
For the next six years, Hind spent the weekdays plumbing and weekends dashing across Victorian country football grounds, splitting his time between Clunes and East Point in Ballarat.
At East Point, Hind met current Essendon forwards coach Dan Jordan, a well-known Ballarat football figure who was then involved in the Bombers’ VFL program.
Hind’s performances earned him selection in an interleague match, where his run-and-gun style of play caught the attention of onlookers — Jordan among them — at Whitten Oval.
“Dan was obviously involved in the VFL and said, ‘Look, do you want to come down and possibly get on the list for the rest of the year?’
“I played two games in the back-half of the year in the VFL for Essendon and then got dropped for finals with a few AFL boys coming back.”
The two-game stint proved a luring appetiser for a matured Hind. He packed his bags, moved to Melbourne and committed to the rigours of VFL football.
Soon enough, two games became two years, and once again Hind dashed his way into draft calculations.
St Kilda swooped with the 54th selection of the 2018 national draft, and the kid from Clunes clocked up 21 AFL games over the next two seasons.
Hind relished his time in Saints colours, but was deployed mainly as a small forward, and when Adam Saad requested a trade away from Essendon, the Bombers had a vacancy across half-back.
Both Jordan and Essendon list manager, Adrian Dodoro, had kept close tabs on their former VFL-listed prospect.
“Adrian approached me, and I sort of knew him from leading up to the draft in my draft year. Dan had a bit to do with it as well, obviously he’d seen me play half-back,” Hind recalled.
“I didn’t give it too much thought at first, I really enjoyed my time at the Saints. But it became a bit more real towards the end (of last season) and ‘Truck’ (Bombers coach Ben Rutten) gave me a call and was really good in the way he spoke to me about how there was an opportunity there.”
From an outsider’s perspective, Hind seamlessly weaved his way into Essendon’s best 22 and quickly proved a successful like-for-like replacement for Saad.
In reality, though, Hind gave little thought to filling the Dons’ gaping hole on the half-back flank.
“I was just coming in to try and play a role for Essendon where I felt that I could, and to the best of my abilities,” Hind said.
“(Rutten) was quite honest with me and didn’t just hand it over to me or anything like that, he made me work pretty hard for it.
“I get compared to ‘Saady’ a lot. He’s a great player and I was never coming into Essendon trying to be Adam Saad or anything like that.”
Fifteen rounds into the 2021 season, it is evident that Hind’s daring play was a perfect fit for a refreshed red-and-black outfit, which has become known for its attacking style.
Hind says the Bombers’ flight back up the ladder can be attributed to Rutten’s balanced coaching method.
“We’re certainly not happy with where we are at the moment and we’ll continue to learn, but it’s just a nice balance of the teaching aspect from Truck, but also having fun and trying to get better.
“We’ve been able to watch videos on the history of the club and really get the sense of what it means to be an Essendon footballer.
“He’s been quite good at delivering the game plan and being very firm with it. We probably took a few steps back in the pre-season to refresh that and make sure we nailed it.
“He’s given some opportunities for some guys to play different positions and it’s allowed them to kickstart their career a little bit more.”
The 26-year-old added that Essendon’s recent draft success has kept the playing group inspired, as first-year guns Nik Cox and Archie Perkins, as well as second-year forward Harrison Jones, continue to turn heads at the top level.
“You can’t underestimate the young guys, either … you can see the future of the club.
“It’s quite a young list and it’s exciting going into the club every day. Those young boys keep you pretty fresh and it’s an enjoyable workplace to go into.”
Away from the field, Hind’s plumbing qualification has ensured a sense of security for life after football, and allows him to spend days off unwinding with his pair of French Bulldogs.
“I’m a qualified plumber. I haven’t done any of it for a while, but I’m lucky that my time away from the club doesn’t have to be used on study,” he said.
“I’ve got two ‘Frenchies’ I like to spend a fair bit of time with. I’ve got my good mates down here and my brothers who I’m quite close with, so we like to get away and just relax. I like getting down to the beach and that sort of stuff.
“Now that I’m playing most weeks, I’m definitely using that time to recover and relax, because it can be tough trying to get up every week.”