In only three seasons at AFL level, Nik Cox has been handed more than his share of obstacles.

After a promising debut season in 2021 saw Cox play 22 games, the 200cm utility has been hampered by a string of injuries, limiting him to play just 11 of a possible 45 games since.

For a 21-year-old with his level of potential, the last two years’ worth of setbacks have proven to be a frustrating period in Cox’s young career.

Cox will be the first to admit his patience was tested throughout, but the support of the wider club ensured he could overcome his troubles, both physically and mentally.


“The kinds of injuries that I endured were quite reliant on a lot of checking in constantly at different stages, sometimes flaring up and fluctuating compared to a stock-standard recovery time,” Cox said.

“There were so many times where I thought I was close, just to be told I was further away again, so that part of it was a massive challenge mentally.

“The physio and high-performance team were so great for helping me with my body and my mental health, identifying areas I could improve and work on.”

Returning to full fitness halfway through the 2023 season, Cox made steady inroads to eventually feature in all of the Dons’ final six games of the year.

Nearly 15 months removed from his last AFL outing, Cox’s round 19 return came with the challenge of keeping his self-confidence.

Finding his feet in roles across half-back and the wing as the latter stages of the season progressed, Cox says the reassurance and backing from his coaches and teammates helped ease him back into the level.


“After you spend a fair chunk of time out of footy, going back out there can be quite intimidating,” Cox said.

“Confidence is a massive thing when you’ve had a lot of injuries, and you have that monkey on the back where you’re scared that things could go wrong again.

“I just had to constantly reassure myself that I’d done all I could to perform, and I was gaining a lot of confidence from the coaches to play with freedom and bring my natural strengths.

“As the weeks went on, it gradually got better for me.”

Senior Coach Brad Scott has been an important figure for Cox in his comeback, encouraging a free approach which can get the best out of his talents.

Identifying a set position for someone with Cox’s unique attributes has been an enduring talking point throughout the early stages of his career, but remaining versatile is at the forefront of his mind.

“Brad (Scott) is giving me a lot of confidence and just reiterating to use my strengths and bring what makes me a good player when I’m at my best,” Cox said.

“The clarity is a big thing, he really wants me to have the reassurance that I’m in positions that maximise my potential. Whether that’s across half-back or further up through the middle, I don’t really mind.”

Looking ahead, Cox’s workload in the coming months could set the platform for his first fully uninterrupted pre-season to date.

Drawing focus to bulking up his physical frame and giving himself the best chance to thrive under the rigours of a full season, Cox is as motivated as he’s ever been.

“Enduring a whole AFL season isn’t easy, so I need to put everything into getting stronger and putting on muscle while not losing sight of the footy aspect as well,” Cox said.

“I’m not looking to go away on break at this stage, I’m just keen on putting in a massive body of work that’ll set me up for the pre-season and give myself the best chance at a good year.

“It’s been an extremely challenging couple of years, but it’s just great to be back out there.

“I’m really committed to improving my body and my footy, taking my game to that next level with a clean run at it.”