DUAL Essendon best-and-fairest winner Zach Merrett has been axed from the Bombers’ AFL leadership group after spending three years as vice-captain.
The reigning Crichton medallist joins Joe Daniher and Orazio Fantasia on the outer after the pair came close to leaving the club at the end of last season.
Not including Merrett in the five-man leadership team is a surprise considering he has long been touted as a future captain.
Just 20, Merrett was stand-in captain for two games in 2016 when Essendon was decimated by bans to players caught up in the supplements saga.
He also filled in as skipper a number of times last year when Dyson Heppell was injured.
Daniher’s omission, however, comes as no surprise after the key forward’s failed trade request to Sydney in October.
Fantasia toyed with the idea of returning home to South Australia for personal reasons.
It leaves former GWS aces Dylan Shiel and Devon Smith to step-in to the Bombers’ leadership group for the first time.
The pair will join defender Michael Hurley and experienced midfielder David Zaharakis, with Heppell confirmed as captain for the fourth-straight year.
It is a big tick of approval for 26-year-old Shiel, who is entering his second season at the Bombers after switching from the Giants at the end of 2018.
He finished runner-up to Merrett in Essendon’s best-and-fairest last year.
Smith headed to Essendon a year before Shiel, winning the Crichton Medal in his debut season.
A knee injury ruined Smith’s 2019 campaign, limiting him to just seven games in the red and black.
“This elevation is a terrific opportunity for both Devon and Dylan,” Essendon’s football manager Dan Richardson said.
“Both men lead by example with their professionalism and have a strong on-field presence.”
Richardson talked about the combined experience of 850 games between the five players.
The Bombers are desperate to improve on their eighth-place finish last year having not won a finals match since 2004.
Entering their final season under coach John Worsfold before he hands over the reins to Ben Rutten, Essendon’s Round 1 assignment is against Fremantle on March 21 at Marvel Stadium.
© AAP 2020