Nate Caddy after being picked up by Essendon at the 2023 AFL Draft. Picture: AFL Photos

NATE Caddy feels like he has arrived at just the right time.

He is back in the team in July ahead of a push to end 20 years without a finals win, at a club that has been nestled in the top-four since round nine this year. 

Essendon used pick No.10 on the poster boy key forward from the Northern Knights in last November's AFL Draft after a busy trade period, and has gradually exposed Caddy to more senior football across 2024. 

The 18-year-old made his debut against Richmond in the Dreamtime at the 'G blockbuster in front of 79,359 people and handled the occasion. He returned as a late inclusion in round 15 and kicked two goals against West Coast. 

But Friday night was different. 

After being recalled on Wednesday, Caddy showed why he should remain in the team for the rest of the year, kicking 1.3 from 12 disposals, eight score involvements, six marks (three inside 50) and four inside 50s against Collingwood in front of 81,711 people at the MCG.


"It was amazing. The crowd noise took a bit of getting used to. It kind of seems weird when you look around and you see so many people, but I loved it," Caddy told reporters in the rooms after the game.

"It is my childhood dream. I'm confident in myself. I had a decent game the last time I played, so I had confidence in myself, but this helped tonight."

Essendon fans have suffered through tough-to-watch winters for most of this century. The Bombers have lost six elimination finals since they last advanced past the first week of September in 2004. They haven’t reached a preliminary final since they progressed to their last Grand Final appearance in 2001, 12 months after securing premiership cup No.16. 

Essendon fans celebrate a goal. Picture: AFL Photos

But after the off-season of widespread change in 2022, coach Brad Scott has stabilised the club across the past 18 months and has banked more wins at this time of the season than any year since 2013.

Caddy is a key part of the long-term future, but is poised to make an impact now. Right now.  

"I said that when I got drafted I feel like I've arrived at the right time," Caddy said.

"The list was a bit underrated – we've got some great players – we're sitting third now and we've just knocked off Collingwood. 100 per cent, I feel like I've come in at a good time. We're definitely on an upwards track and we're not stopping."

Scott hasn't rushed the Yarrambat product. The hype escalated over summer when the kid with the bleached blond hair was taking huge pack marks in match sim.

But Essendon held him back, mindful of the risks of exposing a teenager to too much, too soon. 

After eight VFL games around the moment he lost a tooth at Trevor Barker Oval, Caddy was picked for the first time to face Richmond while Sam Draper was sidelined. Then he came in as the late inclusion for Todd Goldstein against the Eagles, before taking the veteran's spot again on the weekend.

It is hard to see Caddy making way if the Bombers opt for two ruckmen again. 

"I had a pretty good pre-season then got injured fairly late, just before the season started," he said.

"He [Scott] explained to me that I'm going to have a long career here, it doesn't matter what you do right now, just keep building and getting better. That's what he has done with me. He has made me better and I couldn't ask for more in him as a coach in my first year."

Nate Caddy and Brad Scott chat during Essendon training on January 22, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

In the immediate aftermath of Friday night's season-defining win over the reigning premier, Scott struggled to contain his enthusiasm in his post-match press conference when quizzed about Caddy's development. 

"It's hard not to get too excited about him. He is a point of a difference. It's very rare that you see a first-year key forward who can have an impact on a game like he can," Scott told reporters. 

"We saw it in pre-season. He's a very, very exciting player and a really important part of what we're doing."

Caddy carried himself with the same level of confidence in the Coates Talent League and under-18 national championships last year. Now he is carrying himself with that belief at the highest level.


"He is just one of those players that has the intangible, I think," Scott said. "He wants the moment, the bigger the stage the better he performs. He gives great effort."

"The big moments against big opposition, he doesn't get overawed, he rises to the occasion. That was why we were so keen to draft him because key forwards need that. It is a rare gun key forward who doesn't want the moment, doesn't want the ball kicked to him and 'Cadz' certainly wants the ball kicked to him."

Some players are built for the bright lights of Friday night football and September. Caddy is one of those players.