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Bruise-free Bombers need to address leadership vacuum before they can get any better

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Expert
29th August, 2023
21
1474 Reads

Back in February, Essendon’s biggest media cheerleader, Mark Robinson, wrote an article in the Herald Sun entitled “Zach Merrett the uncompromising captain Essendon needed” after he was appointed to the role.

There was talk of taking after Virat Kohli or Kobe Bryant in his obsessiveness, being slightly unhinged, and pounding of the chest demanding excellence. Most of all, Robinson wanted to paint a picture of a fighter, an uncompromising prick, who would go to any length to see the Bombers succeed.

It was laughable at the time, of course, an ice-cold take. Merrett is a nice footballer. He can be a really good one, no doubt, but he’s a nice one all the same. Pretty. He’s a nice-to-have, not a must-have.

This was laid clear on Friday night against Collingwood, when the Bombers kicked three goals for the game having lost by 126 points to GWS the week before. They kicked eight goals in their last eight quarters of footy, lost both games by a combined 196 points, and this after they were fifth on the ladder halfway through July.

Zach Merrett, the uncompromising fighter, had three contested possessions on Friday night.

Three.

Out of a tally of 36 disposals. Three won in a contest. Three, that involved body contact.

Only three times in his career has Merrett had fewer contested possessions, all in his first 25 games. He’s now played over 200. He has never had a lower contested possession ratio in those 206 matches than he did on Friday night.

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(Photo by Graham Denholm/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

And this is Essendon’s problem laid bare. It’s very difficult to turn soft players into hard ones. And this is not the sort of captain that is easily pictured on the premiership dais.

In Richmond’s three premiership years, skipper Trent Cotchin had a contested possession rate of 57 per cent. It’s a far cry from Merrett’s eight per cent against Collingwood when his team could only kick three goals.

Joel Selwood. Luke Hodge. Michael Voss. These are the sort of captains that inspire premierships and dynasties. Even lesser lights like Shannon Hurn, Easton Wood and Nick Maxwell, half-backs putting bodies on the line in front of leading forwards. Cameron Ling, a hard tagger. Sam Mitchell, in at the coal-face.

None of them just running around bruise-free, happy to get 30-35 soft touches, collect 15-20 Brownlow votes and win a few B&Fs.

But that’s Essendon.

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Darcy Parish, nice player but completely unthreatening. Some of the numbers being thrown around for his next contract are eye-watering for the wrong reasons.

Andrew McGrath, nice player. Dylan Shiel, nice player. Dyson Heppell, nice player. Nic Martin, nice player. Mason Redman, nice player.

Not everyone can be a bull. You need inside and outside to complement each other. Running half-backs, as well as those with more physical courage. Uncontested wingmen and fierce-tackling pressure players.

Essendon is just far too over-endowed with one type of player, and not enough of the other.

Brad Scott, who coached 10 years of mediocrity at North Melbourne, is actually a perfect fit for the Bombers. The phrase “a match made in heaven” was invented for these two.

Ultimately, the ladder position flattered Essendon. They were gifted two games against each of West Coast and North Melbourne, two of the worst teams we have seen this side of Fitzory, and were given a push-start into the season by getting Hawthorn (16th) and Gold Coast (15th) in the first two rounds.

They only won another five matches of their remaining 17.

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Don’t be fooled. This is not a club going anywhere.

And Zach Merrett’s performance against Collingwood is the reason why.

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