ESSENDON teenager Zach Merrett says playing at the same club as older brother Jackson will have a positive influence on both their AFL careers.
Zach, 18, made his debut alongside fellow Hampden league export Martin Gleeson against North Melbourne at Docklands on Friday night.
The pair, drafted from Cobden and Koroit respectively, will confront reigning premier Hawthorn, if selected tonight, in a round two blockbuster tomorrow. Zach said living and training with Jackson — a third-year Bomber — had fast-tracked his development and helped him adjust to the rigours of the elite level.
The former Sandringham Dragon was named as the substitute on Friday night and replaced Gleeson, who gathered 14 touches, in the third quarter. Zach finished with 11 disposals and Jackson a career-best 24. “Watching on the bench for the first three quarters, it feels like you’re getting a kick when he’s getting a kick,” Zach said of watching Jackson play.
“We are pushing each other well and both thriving.
“Jackson has been really good and supportive at home living with him and at the club he pushes me in the right direction.”
Zach said making his debut alongside his brother was a dream come true. “It was unreal. Before the game we had a kick together, like we were playing at Cobden,” he said.
“It was obviously a very special feeling with mum and dad there. To be honest, it hasn’t sunk in yet.
“After wanting to play and watching it on TV for years and Jackson the past couple of years, it was very exciting and I am still on a high.”
Zach, the number 26 pick in the 2013 national draft, said he was surprised to make his debut in round one. But the classy half-forward said he felt ready and would now push to improve his strength and fitness in a bid to hold his spot in the Bombers’ best 22.
“I think I played as the sub twice in the NAB Cup so that prepared me pretty well and I had a clear message of my role in the team so when I went on I felt comfortable,” he said.
“Obviously I was nervous but when you run on to the field all those nerves go out the window because you’re doing what you want to be doing.”
Zach, who gave away cricket last year to focus on football, said the club had a supportive environment.
“Dyson Heppell has taken me under his wing a bit with edits and he’s a friend at the club as well and Paul Chapman,” he said.
“I idolised him in a way and am using him as much as I can.
“If I can have half the career as him … ”
Zach Merrett and Gleeson reflected on their Hampden league history before the game.
Gleeson, 19, was drafted to the Bombers one year earlier than Merrett but had his first season cut short by a shoulder injury.
“Me and Marty were in the rooms before the game and talking about his first senior game at Cobden under lights and about how we played under 14 interleague together,” Zach said.
“Reflecting back was pretty special.”
Gleeson said he felt ready to make a mark in his second season and had put his shoulder worries behind him.
“It’s taken me a while. Before Christmas I didn’t do anything to be honest. I was crook and had my shoulder,” he said.
“After Christmas I got into it. I had a few modified sessions and niggles because of the workload.
“I was hopeful I’d get a game early in the year but not round one.
“I was stoked when I found out because I played in the pre-season games and felt I was ready to go.”
The former North Ballarat Rebel defender said his AFL debut still felt “a bit surreal”.
“I was talking to people throughout the week and I knew it would be a rush early on,” Gleeson said.
“I think it would have been good to play a bit longer.
“I thought I played my role all right. Just before three-quarter-time I cramped pretty bad.
“I was running a bit too much early but you learn from that.”
Gleeson said interim coach Mark Thompson had been a positive influence.
“He’s always out there barking instructions. You know when he’s around,” he joked.
“He’s got a wealth of experience so you can talk to him about anything. He is very honest.”