This article was originally published in the latest edition of the James Hird Academy newsletter. Click here to read and download the newsletter.

Exciting NGA prospect Cody Brand models his game on club legend Dustin Fletcher and early signs have shown he certainly has a bright future ahead.

A lifelong Essendon supporter, the key-position player has thrived at The Hangar and says it has been amazing to learn from James Hird Academy head coach Heath Hocking while gaining regular defensive insights from Fletcher.

“It’s pretty cool, because I’m an Essendon supporter and I’ve always idolised Dustin. I play full-back and I model my game a lot around him,” Brand said.

“I’ve known Heath, too, growing up supporting the Bombers, so it’s pretty surreal to now be training with them. I find it pretty amazing.”

Brand has also soaked up Fletcher’s knowledge with his school side at Essendon Grammar, where Fletcher oversees the backline.

“Dustin helps out a bit, so I get a little bit more one-on-one time with him. He takes control of the backs and I played down in the backline for the whole year this year.

“He helped me out and gave me a few tips and tricks, so it’s pretty handy having his support.”

Brand will be eligible for the 2020 draft and says the academy has been a big boost for his development on and off the field since joining the program at the start of 2018.

“It’s helped me enormously, both with strength through the gym and also through a lot of the craft work we do in the sessions. 

“It’s a great help. Last week we covered mental health and preparation. We’ve got a cooking session, which will be pretty cool, and we do a real variety of things here.”

When not playing for his school this year, Brand was impressing in the NAB League as an underage player for the Calder Cannons.

The 195cm youngster averaged 7.9 disposals and 2.5 rebound 50s playing predominantly in defence in his 10 games for the Cannons this year, but also showed his versatility in adding three goals. 

Brand’s impressive efforts saw him selected as one of just 48 talented draft prospects to take part in the NAB AFL All Stars curtain-raising match ahead of the Grand Final at the MCG, but the level-headed 17-year-old isn’t getting ahead of himself.

“It would be a childhood dream come true, I always imagined it. But there’s another 12 months and a lot of hard work to go, so we’ll see what happens when the time comes. 

“I just want to play the best brand of footy I can play, whether that be at school footy or with Calder, and give myself every opportunity come next year for something to happen.” 

Brand’s proud Indigenous roots pass through from his grandfather, who moved to Victoria from the Ben Lomond nation in Tasmania, and he says the rich and long-standing Indigenous history at Essendon has given him something special to look up to.

“You hear the stories of Michael Long, where he came from, and even Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti we’ve got running around now.

“You hear those stories and it makes you appreciate what you’re a part of and it’s something you can look forward to for the years to come.”