Essendon star Zach Merrett admits the club is in “a bit of a mess”, but remains committed to coach Ben Rutten as he faces enormous pressure to keep his job.
Rutten’s future at the club remains uncertain after a change in presidency this week and club contact with Alastair Clarkson’s management about becoming the side’s senior coach in 2023.
The side’s disappointing 2022 season hit a new low on Sunday as the Bombers were thumped by Port Adelaide to the tune of 84 points in front of a disgruntled home crowd at Marvel Stadium.
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Merrett became the first current player to speak in-depth about the Bombers’ situation when he appeared on AFL 360 on Tuesday night.
FULL AFL 360 TRANSCRIPT
Gerard Whateley: Has it been an odd day?
Zach Merrett: It’s been very odd. You wake up the day after a game and you’ve played so poorly as a team, you’re having a lot of second thoughts yourself, reflecting on how you played and what you could have done better to then think more globally and the impact of that game and then all the media noise around it that flooded in, it’s been a unique 24 hours.
Mark Robinson: What was it like playing in a game of football like that? It looked like the team had given up.
ZM: You can only judge what you see. No one has the intention to play poorly, individually or as a team, but for whatever reason we were really poor across the board.
MR: Have you found a reason why?
ZM: The disappointing part probably was that there was nothing that was going well, it was hard to manoeuvre and change because contest work was poor, defence clearly was poor and when we got chances with the ball we couldn‘t move with any fluency to score. It’s disappointing that fans will look and say they’ve put the white flag up because it’s certainly not our intention, but you obviously notice fans walking out through the last quarter, which is heartbreaking and obviously very embarrassing as a player out there. You can feel that the game’s going away from you, but in the moment you’re just trying to work out ways to get back in the game and try and score and try and influence the game and we just for some reason couldn’t do it for the whole game.
GW: How clear were you on what the day would look like as you were heading into the club?
ZM: For me, it was Ben‘s going to be there, he’s going to be coaching, we’re going to be reviewing the game and obviously these guys are nervous what their view is going to be like from an edits point of view. That was sort of all that we knew driving in. Obviously walking in and there was five, six, seven, eight camera crews there ready to take vision and ask questions, so you know there’s a lot going on, but I think the guys were more nervous individually about reflecting on how poor they were on Sunday.
GW: How was Ben today?
ZM: I thought he was pretty strong and courageous to show up, chest out, ready to help us prepare to play against Richmond on Saturday night. He didn‘t shy away from the fact, he was open, he brought it up. I won’t go into detail of what he said but he brought it up, the elephant in the room, and chatted through the situation and I think players respected that. I think the common theme in the room was players feeling sorry that we’re in this position and he was in a position. I think he’s guarded us throughout the year with some really poor games and taking responsibility personally and to get to this point is largely on us as players so that’s the disappointing part.
MR: Was it hard to look at him today?
ZM: I think that the overarching theme of the meetings and the chats informally in locker rooms, across the board, we‘ve gotten to a point now in round 22 that there’s been a lot of talk and we talk constantly throughout the week and the actions aren’t matching up with the intention and that’s the extremely disappointing part. It probably feels like words tonight, but the only thing we can really do is show actions on Saturday night against a quality team and that’s disappointing that we’ve only got one game to prove or show that we can adjust and actually behave in a way that’s going to be in a consistent manner. Ultimately they’re words and we feel sorry for Ben.
MR: Have you been approached by anyone at the club to give your opinion on what happens next?
ZM: No I haven‘t, neither as Dyson (Heppell) or Andy (McGrath). Obviously we went through the internal review, which was handed to the board, that’s sort of all that we heard from it and that’s in their hands. As leaders obviously we’re there to give feedback, we haven’t been approached at all to provide that.
MR: Do you want to?
ZM: I think we’re open to giving feedback, but also respective that we’re there as players and we’ll give advice if we need to, but their role was to govern the club and I guess be the voice for the members. I’m there if need be but at the moment not required.
GW: Would you like to know before you go on your off-season break what the direction of the club is going to be?
ZM: Yeah, it‘s an unique one. I think I copped a bit of criticism probably last year for holding out a contract about direction of the club and to be sitting here in a bit of a mess 12 months later is a bit disappointing, but also I’ve committed long-term to the club and I’m really keen and hopeful that in the next two, three, four, five months that they get really clear on what they want to achieve and how we’re going to achieve it and I’ll fall into line massively on that path, but I’m not going to put a date on or hope that it’s exactly right on Tuesday.
GW: So with your attitude towards Saturday night and the finish of the season is a big game against a quality opponent. Do you have any trepidation around that game? What is your attitude towards that as we sit here on a Tuesday night?
ZM: I think we need to show our fans that we actually have a bit of ticker and a bit of spine. I think we’ve been a pretty easy team to play against all year … we’ve been far too inconsistent. I know four quarters is going to turn that around but it’s a good place to start and we’ve got a long way to gain respect back in the industry against other teams, and in games is the only way you really can do it. I just want to get back out there and play to be honest. It’s pretty frustrating, disappointing. We’re talking, but we want to get out there and actually show actions and I’m looking forward to that.