Jayden Nguyen, Noah Caracella, and Isaac Kako. (Photo: Essendon FC)

Training with an AFL squad makes for handy preparation ahead of your draft year.

January provided that opportunity for three of Essendon’s James Hird Academy talents, who spent two weeks learning the ropes of an AFL pre-season schedule alongside the Bombers’ list.

Isaac Kako and Jayden Nguyen have been paving their way through the Calder Cannons system, utilising the Bombers’ pathway links with the program to train at the NEC Hangar from the ages of 14.

For Kako, an energetic small forward who caught the attention of draft experts as a bottom-ager in 2023, integrating into AFL training sessions has given him the chance to learn from players of similar styles.


“Through these pathways I’ve been around the club since I was about 13 years old. I’ve really paid attention to small forwards like Jade Gresham and Jye Menzie this year, but it’s hard not to take notes from the professionalism of guys in different positions like Zach Merrett who set the tone,” Kako said.

“The leadership is something I really want to take back to the Cannons.”

A run-and-carry midfielder, Nguyen has shown a keen willingness to learn from the Bombers’ more experienced players over the past fortnight.

Acclimatising to high levels of football and understanding the preparation required has been a key takeaway from the program for the 17-year-old.


“I was initially a part of the EDFL representative sides and met the Bombers’ NGA coordinators around that time who invited me to play,” Nguyen said.

“It’s been an unreal experience thus far, I’ve learnt so much off plenty of players who have given me heaps of feedback. Dyson Heppell’s been a real mentor for me, he’s guided me through the training process and Mason Redman has been huge in helping me develop as a player with specific situations and game awareness.

“The preparation helps you in the long run, and that’s something I’ll definitely take away from the program.”

The club is even more familiar for Geelong Falcon Noah Caracella (son of 126-game Bomber and current VFL Senior Coach Blake), who has been involved in the James Hird Academy from a young age.

A floating high forward who reads the game well, Caracella is looking to use every opportunity with the club to best set himself for a strong year.


“It feels like I’ve been here since I was born really (with the father-son attachment),” Caracella said.

“There’s not too much difference between what I learn from (Blake) here and at home, he likes to provide immediate feedback and give me the same advice either way.

“To see the intent and attack for everything the AFL boys do, whether it’s a gym session or a game drill or looking at vision, it helps set you up for the year.”