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Happy under Heppell: Bombers name leadership group

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Essendon midfielder Zach Merrett is back in the club's leadership group after a one-year hiatus, becoming one of three vice-captains to Dyson Heppell.

Merrett, veteran defender Michael Hurley and emerging onballer Andrew McGrath are part of a four-person leadership with Heppell, who played only three matches last season.

Zach Merrett, right, is returning to the Bombers' leadership group after a hiatus.

Zach Merrett, right, is returning to the Bombers' leadership group after a hiatus. Credit:Getty Images

The departures from the group are three other midfielders: veteran David Zaharakis and former GWS Giants Devon Smith and Dylan Shiel.

Heppell, 28, will captain the Bombers for a fifth straight season.

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Essendon coach Ben Rutten said the the playing group and coaching panel both had a role in selecting the club's four official on-field leaders for 2021.

"Dyson, Michael, Zach and Andy each possess outstanding work ethic, professionalism and commitment to the Essendon Football Club," Rutten said in a statement.

"These players lead by example and are committed to the program's values, so they are each to be congratulated on this achievement.

"We also commend Dyson in being unanimously endorsed to lead this football club as captain for a fifth year. It shows the high regard he is held in by his peers.

"Dyson's leadership continues to evolve year on year and he leads from the front. He nurtures but challenges the playing group, and is incredibly determined to take this group forward. He is to be applauded for his caring and committed attitude across all facets of this organisation."

Rutten, in his first season as senior coach after a succession plan with AFL coaching veteran John Worsfold was finalised, said Zaharakis, Smith and Shiel would continue to "play an important role in building the leadership capabilities of our playing list this season".

Essendon have had an off-season with considerable change, including the departure of star forward Joe Daniher to the Brisbane Lions and appointment of long-time Melbourne football boss Josh Mahoney to one of football's hottest seats, replacing Dan Richardson as football boss at Tullamarine.

Heppell said the Bombers were well placed in 2021 as the club's emerging playing group takes more steps forward.

Dyson Heppell was back at training last month.

Dyson Heppell was back at training last month. Credit:Getty Images

"There is a really good energy at the football club under a new senior coach in Ben and we are all united and committed in wanting to be better across the board. We're hungry and determined and we've seen that desire in our training sessions this pre-season," Heppell said in a statement.

"As a playing group, we've spoken about wanting to be a really dependable and hard-working football team. While we can set the example as a leadership group, it takes all of us to drive this football program forward. I'm excited to see what this playing group can bring in 2021."

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Scott Spits

Scott Spits is a sports reporter for The Age

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