Former Essendon captain Gary O’Donnell says that Zach Merrett’s form and leadership have been a catalyst for the Bombers’ success this season so far. 

Merrett has established himself as one of the competition’s top midfielders this season with his form largely contributing to Essendon being right up there as top-four prospects. 

On Friday night, the Bombers fired a warning shot to other AFL finals contenders after knocking off Collingwood – the reigning premiers by 12 points. 

The Essendon skipper had a career-best performance at the MCG wracking up 30 disposals, 15 score involvements, six marks and a goal. 

O’Donnell believes Merrett is a driving force for the Bombers as they push for finals this year.

“He’s changed his game in the last two years, and that’s a credit to him. He’s pushing himself right up there,” he told SportFM.

“He’s dragging this team single-handedly almost, along with him. 

“He’s had a career-best year, and all the things that you want your team to do, and players within your team to do, he’s been doing it. 

“I’m really happy for him because he came to the club in a time where it was labouring with a couple of off-field issues that are well-documented, and he’s now just reaping the rewards. 

The three-time all-Australian’s form from this year reflects that of a leader and someone willing to take action and drive his club and teammates to be better. 

Dylan Shiel, who has spent time out of the senior side, was recalled and delivered a strong performance upon return. 

O’Donnell says Merrett’s performance and standards may be ‘rubbing off’ on other players and encouraging them to put their best foot forward.

“He speaks well but he actually goes out there and backs up his words with his actions and that is inspiring his team as much as any kick, mark or handball,” he said.

“It just hopefully continues along because he’ll keep improving with that attitude and it’ll rub off on other players.

“That may well have rubbed off on Dylan Shiel who’s been watching in the stands this year. If I’m going to get a game in this team, I need to be doing the things that Zach Merrett is doing.”

Essendon currently sits fourth on the ladder with seven rounds left in the regular season and have Melbourne, Sydney and Fremantle still to come. 

However, O’Donnell, while excited about the Bomber’s chances this year, cautions fans and the club against getting too ahead of themselves. 

“Top-level sport bites you on the bum very quickly if you get ahead of yourself.”

IMAGE: Getty Images.