Nick Daicos in action during Collingwood's clash with Sydney in round one, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

WE GO inside the mind of one of the game's best players this week, as Cal Twomey chats with Collingwood superstar Nick Daicos ahead of the Thursday night clash with St Kilda.

Daicos discusses the Pies' start to the season and getting the premiership defence on track, goes inside the memories of the 2023 flag, reveals his mindset during a game, the advice he got from Gary Ablett jnr, continuing the Daicos dynasty after father Peter and with brother Josh and how he is managing to be a normal 21-year-old in the public gaze. 

Let's start on the team, which hasn't had the start you were after at 0-2. What have you addressed this week?

Our ball movement and defensive system. We've got a basic game style but we think it's proven that it works in the tight, close games and obviously in finals so we want to hone in on what we're good at and get our pressure up around the ball and the first start for that will be Thursday night. 

After a flag there's always going to be increased focus the following season. Throw in the Collingwood factor and it's massive. What do you put the slow start down to?  

It's a difficult question. We've played two really good teams so we probably need a few more games to get a true idea of where we're at. We think we had a great pre-season and trained really hard as every team does and we came out at the start of the season wanting to win and unfortunately, we haven't been able to do that yet. We've gone to work, addressed some little areas we think we need to improve on from the last couple of games and we'll implement that.

Does the complacency query annoy you guys yet?

It does. It actually really does. We're a really driven group. We were so grateful for the opportunity to play in the Grand Final last year and worked really hard to get there and we're addicted to that winning feeling. What we experienced on the last weekend of September last year we all want again, we're all hungry and there's definitely no complacency. 

You reach your 50th game this week. Do you get a chance to reflect on the whirlwind start to your career?

A little bit. I did come across your piece, I thought that was pretty cool to reflect on some of the games I've played in and obviously we've had so many close wins so to see how fortunate I've been playing in a really successful side the past two years has been amazing. My aim was just to play one game and crack into the team so to now be coming up on my 50th game at the start of year three is something I'm very grateful for. 


How close did I get to getting the order right?  

Very close I think. It's funny, as I looked through them I remembered different little parts of those games and it definitely brought back some great memories with so many of those close wins in the first year and then obviously such a successful year for the team last year. 

How in-tune do you feel with your performance when you've played a good game? 

It's a good question. This year I've put an emphasis on judging my game off my pressure and defensive intent. That's how I think I get my game going. It's very easy for me to know what headspace I'm in – whether I'm drifting a bit defensively or have that proper intent. For me playing in the midfield now, which I'm loving, it's about applying a lot of pressure around the ball, tackling, hunting and really getting after the ball. That's the best measure for me and then the rest of my game, the offensive stuff, really flows off that. 

Everyone watching footy thinks about what goes through the mind of the best players. Can you explain your decision-making process when you've got the ball? 

It's funny you say that because I'm not too sure what's going on when I've got the ball in my hands. I don't make my mind up with what I'm going to do with the ball until last second a lot of the time. That's a strength of mine and something I think good players can do – they can adapt to what the defence presents. I watch Errol Gulden, Zak Butters and the like and the way they're able to contort the footy and kick across their body late and really open the game up and those aspects to kicking and decision-making really break a game apart. 

Does time feel slow in those moments? 

No, no it doesn't. The game's racing and you can really feel the pressure and heat. I try to stay composed and obviously it's a bit more difficult than other times when the heat and pressure is on in the game but I back my judgment in and my skills to work through that.

Nick Daicos evades Toby Bedford during the R9 match between Collingwood and GWS at the MCG on May 14, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Genetics helps, but you've also trained that a lot. What do you do to keep sharp? 

It's definitely something that takes practice the mental side of the game, and a lot of it is confidence. It's one thing to want to go out there and be calm but it's another thing to want to put the work in through the week and make sure you're prepared to actually go out in front of 90,000 and execute that. For me, I like to have the ball in my hands a lot through the week practicing my skills. 

Your dad used to tell you you only needed to evade one tackler at a time. Then worry about the next one. And the next one after that. Has that stuck at AFL level?

Yes and no. It's a bit harder at AFL level with the pressure a lot greater and bigger bodies so once you evade one tackle usually you're probably ready to get rid of the ball. There's not too many occasions where you evade a couple of players. I don't have the foot speed of Bobby Hill and the agility of a player like that so for me if I get around someone pretty quickly I'm looking to dispose the ball. 

How close were you to not playing again last season after the knee injury in round 21?

It was a funny injury and the timeframe was uncertain. It was all dependant on each step and everything had to go right, which it did. I was fortunate that I had a great support network at the club. For me the first week after the injury was about how I could best assist the team on the weekend. I just wanted to keep occupied and do something I'm passionate about so that was making sure I was watching the game and encouraging the boys.


You missed Josh's 100th. How disappointing was that? 

I'm Josh's No.1 fan. I love supporting him and what he does on the field so it was a shame not to be out there for his 100th game especially after the path he's had when he was in and out of the team for a long time. To have his spot locked in and get to his 100th was a great achievement and I was spewing I wasn't out there with him. It was actually the first game I went out and watched after doing my knee so I sat up on the wing. I had a good view of him and I was very proud of him. 

The time to celebrate came a few weeks later after one of the all-time great Grand Finals and you were a part of the biggest moment with the handball to Jordan De Goey. Afterwards on the ground we saw you going to that spot and recreating it with him in an empty MCG. What is it like to have that play immortalised?

It's quite special for me. Obviously you want to perform on the big days and for us as a team to handle those moments late so successfully was a real credit to the coaching staff in the way they prepare us and also the boys and the amount of work we put in. It was very cool though. It's funny because we play a lot of footy at the MCG so now whenever we go to that spot you sort of naturally draw that remembrance of what happened and what occurred. It's pretty special now it's happened and we can look back on it forever. 


What have you done with the memorabilia and keepsakes from that time – the medal, the jumper, the boots, the photos? 

They're in a box. I'm going to get a little frame and make something together to remember what was such a special day with the jumper and medal. I've also got the hat there, so it's cool to have that memorabilia. I grew up being such a passionate footy supporter so to play on Grand Final day was amazing and to win it is hard to put into words. 

Some guys missed out on it as well. How do you work to try get them success and who excites you at the club who we haven't seen too much of yet? 

It was tough to watch John Noble, Dan McStay and Taylor Adams at the time miss out. Johnny is such a big part of our team and culture so for him to miss was very tough and obviously with Dan and Tay through injury too was so unfortunate and they played such big roles throughout the year. For this year, Finlay Macrae is so ready to play at the AFL level and I'm hoping he gets his opportunity to play in that midfield. I've got no doubt he'll thrive out there. 

Last year you dealt with more attention from taggers. Early in this season you've shown your midfield prowess even more. How do you prepare for that focus?

That's one of the things you naturally prepare for as a footballer – the attention – and I control what I can. The best thing for me is to make sure my defensive intent is always there. If we can confuse opposition, which we've done in the past when we've been tagged, and negate their system to our advantage. For me it starts with my defence and that's where there's even more significance put on the amount of pressure I can apply on the opposition defensively. 

Nick Daicos with a torn jumper during the AAMI Community Series match between Collingwood and Richmond at Ikon Park on February 27, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

You've spoken to Gary Ablett jnr about dealing with that. What advice did he give you?

I spoke with Gary Ablett a little bit through my under-18s days. My coach at Oakleigh (Jason Davenport) was good friends with him so we had a mutual connection and he's obviously dealt with tagging and everything before. He provided great insight to me and has been a good sounding board. I spoke to him a little bit last year and he was great for me and provided great wisdom. It was pretty cool to be in contact with someone you've looked up to for so long and one of the greatest to ever do it. 

Are you ready to be the full-time midfielder this year? 

Absolutely, that's always been where I've played my best footy. When I got to the club there was a really strong midfield and my best position was probably half-back but going into last year I was ready to take the step to become a full-time midfielder and I've continued to grow my craft. That's where I can do my most damage. I definitely think midfield is my best spot and I'll continue to grow my craft and can't wait to get more midfield minutes.  

Your first interaction with Craig McRae was when he walked into the gym and said you needed to get arms like Josh. It's been a successful start for you both. 

I remember that day, I was doing my bench press. It was a month out from the draft and I was doing about 90 kilos and he said 'If you can get to 100 before round one next year you'll debut'. That was good enough incentive for me to get a bit of size on and do it in a hurry. That was my first interaction with Fly and it was great. 

Nick Daicos hugs Craig McRae after the preliminary final between Collingwood and GWS at the MCG on September 22, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

In 2021 you were a part of our Going Places series tracking you through your draft year. Talk through your decision-making process to nominate for Collingwood as a father-son, which took you some time to work through.  

It definitely wasn't as straightforward a decision as some probably assume it was. I had to consider a lot of options and I'm very grateful I'm at Collingwood now. It was ultimately where I always wanted to play but we had to go through the process of the draft and make sure we ticked all boxes in terms of making sure it was the right fit for me. It was pretty clear that Collingwood's values aligned with mine and they were a very driven club for success but also valued family and had a sense of love for one another. That was a driving force for my decision to nominate as a father-son as we captured in Going Places

At that time you were pretty outward in your ambition to be the No.1 pick, and the bid ended up coming at No.4. Has your sense of that changed since you got into the system? 

Everything comes back to perspective and at the time you think that's the biggest thing in the world and you're so driven to achieve that. I know there was lots of comparisons between Jason Horne-Francis and I and who was the better player. I was quite driven to achieve the No.1 pick as I thought it was a great reward for a lot of hard work but Jason's been a great player and he was thoroughly deserving of it. Now you look back on it, it's obviously a great honour, but you know your draft pick doesn't hold as much significance once you enter the comp. Everyone enters the AFL and you have to earn your stripes again, whether you're pick one or pick 70. It's a reset button. Now it probably doesn't hold as much significance for me but at the time it did feel important. 


That year was a COVID season and your outlet was turning on the PlayStation, chucking in some headphones and getting stuck into Fortnite. Is that still how you take your mind away from the game now?

A little bit, I probably don't play as much these days. I like to spend time with my family, and my girlfriend Arlette ,who I spend a lot of time with. I watch footy and I really enjoy watching it but it can be so consuming so I like to see my mates and still be a 21-year-old kid. I go to dinner with my mates, have a laugh and we don't talk much footy, which is sometimes really refreshing. They can pick up on my mood whether I'm up for footy talk or not. I'm very fortunate with my family, my girlfriend and my friendship group and I love spending time with them all. That's probably my best way of getting away from footy. 

Does the explosion in celebrity make it difficult to be that normal 21-year-old? 

It's definitely different. I probably get recognised a lot more but I'm very grateful for it. I used to idolise players so any time I can have a photo with someone I get great gratitude out of that. To your point about still being a kid and a 21-year-old, you do lose a bit of that aspect and you're heavily scrutinised probably from the age of 18 onwards and the scrutiny has always been there. You have to accept that in the public eye and I wouldn't rather have any other job in the world. I love playing footy, it's a public job, the scrutiny is going to be there. 

You are still living at home, so after a good game is Colleen or Pete serving up dinner?

Usually it's Uber Eats for me. That's my go-to order after a game. I'll order in with Josh or Arlette and usually it's a nice little pizza to celebrate if we win. 

Are you saying Pete's no good in the kitchen?

Nah, he's a good cook but I think he's mentally exhausted after a full game of watching us too so I think we're all happy with Uber Eats by then. 

Nick and Josh Daicos with their parents Peter and Colleen after the AFL Grand Final between Collingwood and Brisbane at the MCG on September 30, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos