Finals loss still stings for the Bombers, says young gun Nik Cox

The pain of the elimination final loss has not yet faded from the memory of Essendon’s best first-year player Nik Cox as he returned to training on Wednesday ready to atone for the second-half fadeout against the Western Bulldogs in Launceston.

The 19-year-old was outstanding in his first season playing 22 matches, particularly given the lack of football he had played in 2020. But his energy and form dropped away towards season’s end and he was the medical substitute in the final two matches.

Nik Cox (centre) in action during an early pre-season running session.Credit:Getty Images

That personal experience and the disappointing finals exit has given Cox motivation as he enters his first pre-season since he was pick eight in last year’s national draft, held in December due to COVID.

“We wanted to get back into it as soon as we [could]…[we] still have a bit of fire in the belly from that final that we lost,” Cox said.

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Darcy Parish, Zach Reid, and new recruit Jake Kelly hit the training track for the start of pre-season.Credit:Getty Images

So early was the return, Cox did not have a chance to fix his hair before he was back at training, sporting blond locks he doubts any of his teammates will want to copy.

But the spindly utility wasn’t the main attraction at the training session held at ‘The Hangar’, with the Bombers’ new part-time development coach, former Richmond champion Alex Rance, making an appearance in his first AFL role since he made the shock decision to step away from the game just before Christmas in 2019.

Cox did not doubt the 32-year-old Tigers’ premiership defender could play if he wanted to, as he participated in drills, but the youngster’s excitement about Rance’s presence was restricted to what he might offer him as a coach.

“He was an incredible player during his career and it’s great to have him out on the track,” Cox said.

“He’s a great voice and so experienced.

“He’s got a lot of knowledge that’s going to be passed down to us young players and he’s going to be working with us closely, so that’s an awesome thing for us.”

Cox wants to improve every aspect of his game as he enters his second year, not only adding strength to his frame but developing his running power, which is already an area in which he excels.

He thinks one day he might settle in a key position, but at the moment he is happy being versatile enough to play at either end of the ground, play on the wing, or even pinch hit in the ruck as he looks to stay at his best for a full season.

New Essendon development coach Alex Rance encourages Bombers utility Aaron Francis.Credit:Getty Images

“That’s a big driver of mine,” Cox said.

The other is the prospect of spending 2022 playing AFL football in the manner he anticipated when it was just a dream, with full houses at the MCG and interaction with fans.

“It’s really exciting,” Cox said.

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