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Mature Martin making his mark at Essendon

From Subiaco to the Hangar at Tullamarine, maturity, perspective, and resilience have paved Nic Martin’s path to a debut season with Essendon to remember.

Although he kicked 24 goals across 17 games in the 2021 WAFL season, Subiaco premiership forward Nic Martin had never tallied more than four goals in a single match.

In his AFL debut in front of over 50,000 at the MCG, Martin booted five.

It was a dark day for the Bombers as they fell to Geelong by 66 points, but Martin provided a shining light as he accumulated 27 disposals and ten marks on his way to the Round 1 AFL Rising Star nomination.

His debut performance may have appeared to have come from obscurity for some, with the 21-year-old plucked from Western Australia by Essendon during the Pre-Season Supplemental Selection Period to fill their final list spot.

However, for General Manager of Football Operations at Subiaco, Kristian Dicton, Martin’s potential was just waiting to be unleashed.

“He was in the top one or two talented players on our list prior to going (to Essendon). I thought once he landed at an AFL club, he’d definitely make an impact because his game style suits it – the higher the grades he goes to the better he’ll get,” Dicton said.

“Don’t get me wrong – I was surprised by his first game – but I haven’t been surprised that he’s been able to have an immediate impact because he’s definitely got the talent.”

Previously the Talent Manager during Martin’s time with the Subiaco Colts and Senior program, Dicton watched on as Martin was dealt a number of setbacks on his pursuit to reach the elite level.

Like most young footballers, Martin had envisioned being drafted as a teen and realising his AFL dream before the age of 20.

He shot to prominence in Western Australia playing school football for Trinity College, then impressed as a forward with the Colts at Subiaco. Clubs started to consider him as a top-20 talent in the 2019 NAB AFL Draft, but a challenging under-18s championship saw him begin to fall off their radar. 

Overlooked in that draft and having missed selection over a number of Supplemental Selection Periods, Martin went back to the drawing board in the WAFL.

“He worked through a lot of things, on his work rate and his commitment to the gym and the program,” Dicton said.

“Then he stepped up to Seniors and we always knew Nic had talent, but he’s also a really resilient kid.”

That resilience was truly put to the test when an opportunity at the Eagles slipped through his fingers due to a last-minute quad injury.

“I was pretty confident that the Eagles were going to pick him up, but he sustained that quad injury at training, and I think that was the cause for him not getting picked. All things being equal, and he was fully fit, they more than likely would have picked him up,” Dicton said.

Despite the potential to play elsewhere, he stuck with Subiaco and continued to hone his craft.

“He was definitely disheartened when he came back to us but once he settled, he focused on what he could do here – we just said, ‘You can only control what you can control and that’s performing here and doing your best here.’”

Ultimately, the extra time he was granted may have been a blessing in disguise with a WAFL premiership and a phone call from Essendon List Manager, Adrian Dodoro, on the horizon.

Martin’s natural talent was never in question, but his hunger for feedback and desire to improve set him apart.

“The main thing from us was that obviously he was getting noticed, he had the ability, but it was about continually learning and listening to feedback and enacting it – which he did in spades,” Dicton said.

“That’s no doubt been the catalyst as to why he’s now been picked up.”

When the phone call from Essendon did come, Martin was eager to jump straight on a plane despite the uncertainties surrounding border closures, but was challenged to improve his running ability, with the Bombers casting an eye toward a role on the wing – a future that Dicton can certainly see.

“You want him with ball in hand because his skills are exquisite, both sides of his body. As he gets into the swing of things and the rigours of AFL, he’s definitely got the attributes to be a good wingman.”

Come January, Martin had made his way to The Hangar and earned his spot via an impressive intraclub performance.

Not only has Martin now ticked off his debut match, but he has solidified his place within Essendon’s best 22, playing all bar one match due to health and safety protocols and averaging 21 disposals, six marks and two goals per game.

There is no questioning the role that Subiaco has played in Martin’s development, with Dicton quick to credit senior coach Beau Wardman as a significant influence, amongst a wider culture of support and growth.

“Our league coach, Beau Wardman – he’s had a big part in it, mentoring Nic through the ups and downs but he’s always challenged him. The club as a whole has definitely been there for Nic, we knew the ability was there and it was just about unlocking it,” he said

“Subiaco as a whole, we pride ourselves on our culture and getting the best out of our players and staff. We’re proud as punch that he’s got an opportunity because he’s worked so hard.”

Away from the field, the maturity that Martin has developed has held him in good stead as he completes his university degree in tax accounting – finding a balance in life and football that many struggle to unlock.

“He’s obviously intelligent and he’s been pretty grounded in that space. Maybe the flipside of missing out on the draft early has actually given him time to mature and understand the whole package and what life is about.

“He’s had time to put everything in perspective so his life, work, family are taken care of. The setback of not getting drafted has assisted him in other areas and he’s very well-rounded.”

With more mature age recruits “in vogue,” Martin is the perfect case study to prove that while it may be the road less travelled, the path away from the draft can be just as fruitful.