Nic Martin (left) and his Essendon teammates after the R6 loss to Collingwood at the MCG on April 25, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

COLLINGWOOD'S come-from-behind win over Essendon in last year's Anzac Day clash has served as a critical factor in the Bombers' plans for 2024, including emerging star Nic Martin's shift as a half-back.

The Bombers led the eventual premiers by 28 points at three-quarter time of the clash but that wasn't enough as the Nick Daicos-charged Pies overran Essendon to win by 13 points with seven last-quarter goals. 

But the game has been a constant in the mind of Essendon coach Brad Scott, who saw his side get overwhelmed as injury struck the Bombers and left them plugging holes with players in unfamiliar positions. 

Part of Essendon's focus over summer ahead of Scott's second season at the helm has been to build his players' skills – "not only in their primary role but also some secondary and tertiary roles as well" – with Martin, who has become a key member of Essendon's midfield, training regularly as a half-back over summer.

In some match simulations, the smooth-moving Martin has been deployed to take Essendon's kick-outs and be the set-up player from defence. Scott said last year's Magpies loss had been the origins of their search for positional flexibility. 

"A lot of people have asked me 'What happened at three-quarter time on Anzac Day?' We put ourselves in a winnable position, I think 28 points up but Jayden Laverde had been crunched, he was off the ground. I was told he couldn't come back on," Scott told


"We were limited with players that we could move to half-back and so we had to put a player at half-back who really hadn't trained there and wasn't prepared to play there. We've been pretty diligent in making sure that we've got a lot of bases covered and that means making sure the players are prepared to play those roles. 

"That [could be] Nic playing half-back, Nick Hind playing forward and back, our rucks spending a fair bit of time forward so that they can go and play there if we choose to play two rucks. But Nic Martin, I think he'd look comfortable no matter where he was on the ground. He's just a really smart player and a terrific ball user."


Daicos' free-wheeling smarts against Essendon from half-back then the midfield saw him clinch the best-afield Anzac Day Medal last year, with Scott saying the value of the defensive user was critical.

"The game always evolves and sometimes it evolves full circle and it comes back to where it was. I think back to as an example, you know, the Sydney Swans side of (Nick) Malceski, Tadhg Kennelly, Rhyce Shaw running off half-back. Those players were really important back in that era and I think they're equally as important in the modern era," he said.

"We've got (Mason) Redman, (Andrew) McGrath, Nick Hind … we've got a lot of players who can do that but with one or two injuries and a couple of positional shifts, we want to make sure we've got enough depth to be able to do that. And 'Marto's' certainly capable of it." 

Essendon's improved depth on the wing, where Martin has played the majority of his first two seasons at AFL level, has also allowed for more things to be trialled across pre-season. Ex-Port Adelaide midfielder Xavier Duursma and 2022 top-five draft pick Elijah Tsatas have trained as wingmen over summer, while Sam Durham has been a pre-season standout. 

L-R: Elijah Tsatas, Zach Merrett, Nick Hind and Xavier Duursma looks on during Essendon's official team photo day at the Hangar on February 13, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

On Duursma, Scott said the Bombers had identified the need for his running attributes.

"We probably felt we were a little bit short at different stages with some outside run so we value Xavier really highly and he's had a terrific last month," he said.

Tsatas' first season at Essendon was curtailed by knee surgery that ruled him out for the first half of the 2023 campaign. He debuted in round 21 and played the last four games of the season, with Scott excited by what he can add to their mix. 

"Elijah's always had a lot of raw power but he's had raw power for a 17, 18-year-old and he's really developed physically [over pre-season]. He's starting to display those elite attributes that we saw as a junior. He's now transferring that through to the training track," he said. 

"That comes with a bit of maturity, but a bit of size and strength as well. He's still got a long way to go and he's going well. He's performing at a high level. The scope for his improvement is significant."