The Roar
The Roar


The startling evolution that has Nick Daicos' inexplicably long list of haters all eating crow

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23rd May, 2024
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Nick Daicos is arguably the best player in the AFL in just his third season and, likely, the most needlessly divisive.

Maybe it’s the fact he plays for Collingwood, maybe it’s the fact he’s their best player, or if people dislike Daicos, it’s probably due to the hype that has always surrounded him.

He was spoken up as an underage talent, labelled as “ready to go” before his draft year by Nathan Buckley. He entered the league with an incredible amount of anticipation from the AFL world and expectation, almost larger than any other young talent. He delivered tenfold.

To start his career, Daicos spent most of his time across half-back. He averaged nearly 26 disposals a game in his first season and polled 11 Brownlow votes. He received plenty of acknowledgement but there was a vocal section of AFL fans and media members criticising him. They called his disposals “meaningless”, his hauls “cheap” and tried to downplay his success.

In 2023, he moved higher up the ground, into the midfield. He averaged 31 disposals, kicked 19 goals and 13 goal assists, polling 28 Brownlow votes in a premiership-winning season. He was rewarded with that very medal, as well as an All-Australian jacket and an ANZAC medal.

 (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Despite all this, his high uncontested possession rate, his use as the handball option to send the ball forward with ease and the general outside-the-contest nature of his game, while intentionally developed, ensured the acclaim was far from universal.

This season, he’s Collingwood’s main midfield mover. In particular, he’s coming off a performance against Adelaide that resulted in 41 disposals, 22 contested possessions, 14 clearances and five tackles. He also had 11 clangers and went at his worst kicking efficiency.


Champion Data said he was the 21st best player on the ground, adding fuel to the fire. He wasn’t the best player on the ground, but he was in the top handful. Numbers are great, they’re a personal favourite to help tell a story, but only if it matches the eye test.

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Now, social media is often referred to as the vocal minority, except that’s not really all that true, is it?

Particularly in our sphere, the footy circles, there’s enough noise on social media, through media itself and indeed through fanbases where the alignment indicates that the Daicos divisiveness exists.

If you’ve been to a Collingwood game, you’ll have heard everything opposition fans have to say about the third-year star.

If you’re on socials, you’ll have read all sorts of things covering both ends of the widely variable spectrum that is the Nick Daicos experience.

Then, there’s Champion Data’s numbers on his Adelaide performance, or a media performer’s criticisms, or even celebrations, that make this young man the most spoken about player in the league.


There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it comes with the territory of clearly being one of the best and soon-to-be highest-paid players in the league, but it’s just a bit curious how Daicos is treated slightly differently.

Of course, the more star power you possess, the more divisive you are. Typically, with the true stars, the positives far outweigh any negative press, if any exists. Marcus Bontempelli is just a class act and rarely receives criticism, Jeremy Cameron is hard to criticise unless suspension hits.

Toby Greene, of course, is probably the most divisive player full stop but that’s hardly talent, which can be said for Clayton Oliver too. There have been a host of superstars that get the negative press on their kicking, guys like Christian Petracca, Nat Fyfe, Patrick Cripps, but those are all backed up by statistics.

Lachie Neale is a star of the league and any divisiveness that’s gone his way is out of his control – he didn’t choose to win the second Brownlow medal.

With Daicos though, despite constantly developing, to the point of being the very best inside midfielder and influential clearance player in a narrow win over Adelaide, in a style that’s not conducive to promoting great kicking, we don’t celebrate such a big step forward in him becoming a generational, well-rounded threat.


Instead, he didn’t use the ball well, he committed too many clangers, he didn’t hit the scoreboard.

The reason behind it is probably a mix of all the aforementioned factors. Even being as hyped as he was, if he was performing this way for North Melbourne or St Kilda, given their lowly positions on the ladder and lesser populated fan bases, the narrative would be around trying to get him out of a struggling team.

No one’s sitting around criticising Harry Sheezel, and rightfully so, despite positionally developing similarly to what Daicos has.

So yes, there’s an inherent Collingwood bias at play. There’s an inherent “hate the hyped kid” bias too. There’s still the group of fans that believe their players are better than Daicos and as such, have to make that feeling known.

Play off half-back and he gets too many cheap, meaningless touches. Play as the receiver in the midfield and it’s baffling why he can’t win his own ball and distribute to others. Play as an inside midfielder and clearance aficionado, he’s wasting too many disposals and not hitting enough targets. Every player has their detractors, but not many find it as difficult to get their wins from the general public as Daicos.

Through ten games in 2024, he’s averaging career-highs in disposals, clearances, contested possessions, inside 50s, score involvements, tackles and pressure acts. In the majority of those categories, he is rated elite.


The next step to his game will be the consistency of impact across four quarters, his follow-up work once the ball enters another contest and the continued development of his defensive running. Finding time and space for himself as a midfielder, rather than relying on the blocking of teammates will be important for him to maximise his impact.

Even if those aspects take a while to develop, we’re still looking at a player whose inside/outside ability, breakaway speed and now improving pressure probably put him at the top of the pile in terms of midfielders in our league.

Just because Daicos continues to exceed all expectations doesn’t preclude him from being celebrated as a star.
Maybe we’re all guilty in general of just focusing on the negatives in footy and the Aussie way of trying to knock stars down a peg or two.

Collingwood fans definitely know it, AFL fans should know it and the media has to know it.

He isn’t without his flaws, no player is, but Daicos has clearly developed into everything that could’ve been hoped for already and his trajectory at this rate of growth has the potential to reach scary heights.

More than anything though, in 2024, the 21-year-old is having an exceptional season with very few negatives and has been a key instigator behind Collingwood’s improvement after a slow start.


Divisive or not, Nick Daicos is already one of the best players in the league and should be celebrated as such – players of this talent don’t come around that often.