Zach Merrett’s first AFL Captains Day provided a sobering perspective from his peers. He learned that his team, Essendon, was known for playing offensive, “run and gun” football which would not win finals.
Merrett admitted that the Bombers were seeking to build a distinct brand with a bigger emphasis on defence under new coach Brad Scott, but warned the transformation would not happen overnight.
Merrett’s comments came as Essendon ruled out explosive forward Jake Stringer due to a hamstring injury.
He said Scott’s message for the players had been clear, that they needed to evolve and be much more balanced in the contest and balanced as an offence and defensive team. Merrett added that they needed to build a bit more of an identity of a brand which fans were probably crying out for.
Clubs change coaches for various reasons, but the constant is performance. Football is a performance-based business and Essendon finished bottom four.
As players, it was hard for them to judge where they should be. Merrett said that all the feedback they received was that they didn’t have that many good players but somehow also they should be better.
Merrett felt that they probably underachieved because that was the outcome.
Merrett was confident that there was significant scope in mature players to improve, including Mason Redman, Darcy Parish, Andy McGraw, and Dylan Shiel among the established players. As a new captain, Merrett would lean on a range of mentors, some new and some old.
For years, Merrett had a surprising mentor, Geelong premiership captain Joel Selwood, who had been sending him messages of congratulations on a milestone, wish him luck for a significant game, or advice.
Merrett reached out to Selwood for advice when he was nervous and excited to captain a game at the age of 20. He had been grateful to have Selwood’s phone number in his phone and to be able to call at any stage.
Merrett was just one of the significant changes at the Bombers in the past 12 months. A new president, CEO, and captain. Merrett said that Brad had been amazing for him already, and they had grown a strong relationship quickly.
Merrett was embracing all the changes and slowly putting his stamp on how he thinks it would help the players move forward.