Essendon players and coaches pose for a team photo. (Image: Brandon Patane / The Inner Sanctum)

Following an 11th-placed finish in 2023, the pieces are being put in place for the Bombers to show that they have what it takes to compete in 2024.

Speaking at Essendon’s Media and Content Day on Tuesday morning, club captain Zach Merrett explained how the playing group are looking to continually improve, and the progress they have made since last year.

“Finishing the way we did in that last… I think eight weeks, we probably pulled away from the things we we’re trying to instil and the way we want to play. It wasn’t up to standard,” he said.

“I think we’re constantly learning, Brad (Scott) has brought some amazing perspectives and learnings for all of us.

“Players are certainly obviously sick of losing, the competition’s so tight and we know a percentage here and there could be the difference between making finals, making the top four, or the bottom four.

“I think players are just trying to get better individually, trying to drive themselves to get better, and then obviously the coach’s job is to bring that all together as a team.

“Hopefully guys improving individually, putting on size and getting better, or fitter, and understanding the game more, will then allow coaches to pull more triggers in Round 1 when we put it together.”

Making reference to top teams like the Magpies, Lions, and Giants, Merrett touched on he wants the side to find a more consistent brand of footy and bridge the gap to those outfits.

“It’s great listening to Craig McRae, Chris Fagan, (Adam) Kingsley, these coaches talking about how close they feel the competition is… but that little gap also feels massive at times,” he said.

“ANZAC Day sitting in the box… we looked like we had the game sort of in control and then to get blown away. Then to play a team like the Giants earlier in the year and win… four months later they completely destroy us.

“Winning two or three more of those games all of a sudden slingshots you up pretty quickly, but if you lose them you’re obviously sitting in that middle pack.

“We know it is close, but we also know those next percentages or those margins are actually quite big and it’s probably more in the consistency of doing it. That ability to do it consistently is something we need to keep working on.”

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With a solid group of young stars who have made names for themselves over the last couple of years, Merrett spoke about the midfield depth at the Bombers and the competitiveness that will be present though that line in 2024.

“It’s a great thing having a lot more talent, and a lot more talent coming through. Balancing that is obviously difficult at times,” he said.

“There’s obviously always injury or form throughout seasons which will change that mix.

“Two [practice] matches will be great insight probably as to where the coaches see it and then I think they’ll adjust probably for Round 1.

“Darcy Parish has probably been our best trainer throughout the pre-season, and obviously you look for guys like (Ben) Hobbs, (Jye) Caldwell, and (Sam) Durham to come through and drive our group forward.”

One young draftee who has made strides over pre-season is Nate Caddy, and Merrett praised the way he has adjusted to life at Essendon.

“He’s done some amazing things… if he went Pick 10, the top nine must be some super players as well,” Merrett said.

“Being a key-position player, we know how long that can take at times. Obviously you want to be in a rush and be impatient, but also be smart with his body.

“If it’s Round 1 or not, I’m not too sure but I’m certainly enjoying some of the things he’s brought already.”

Alongside Caddy, plenty of experienced recruits have also settled in well at the club and will be hugely important for the overall improvement of the team in 2024.

“It’s been nice not just bringing in 18-year-old talents that are sort of unproven,” Merrett explained.

“To bring in those four (Goldstein, McKay, Gresham, and Duursma), they’re proven AFL players.

“It’s nice when you look up when you lose a stoppage, and Ben (McKay) takes a mark.

“To have Todd Goldstein, I think he’s going to be amazing for Nick Bryan and Sam Draper, but I think he’s still hungry to chase that success as well… He’s training at an unbelievable level for a 35-year-old.

“Xavier (Duursma) I think had a super start at Port… his last two weeks have been amazing

“Then Jade Gresham, his numbers speak for themselves… I don’t think we’ve probably had someone like him in our forward half for a number of years so [I’m] really excited for what he can bring.”

Essendon will return to the field on Friday, February 23 in a match simulation against St Kilda at RSEA Park, before heading to GMHBA Stadium to take on Geelong in the AFL Community Series on Friday, March 1.

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