Essendon star Zach Merrett says the club is in “a bit of chaos” but remains committed to coach Ben Root as he faces pressure to keep his job.
Rutten’s tenure at the club remains uncertain following a change in chairmanship this week and talks with Alastair Clarkson’s management about becoming the club’s senior manager in 2023.
The team’s disappointing 2022 season hit a new low on Sunday when the Bombers were hammered by Port Adelaide by 84 points in front of a frustrated home crowd at Marvel Stadium.
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Merrett became the first current player to speak in depth about the Bombers’ situation during an appearance on AFL 360 on Tuesday night.
Full AFL 360 transcript
Gerard Whaley: Was it an unusual day?
Zach Merrett: It was so weird. When you wake up the day after a game and you’ve played 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, and reflecting on the impact on the international stage. All the media hype surrounding that game and then flooding in, it’s a unique 24 hours.
Mark Robinson: What was it like playing in a football game like this? The team looked desperate.
ZM: You can only judge what you see. No one wants to play poorly, either individually or as a team, but for whatever reason, we were poor across the board.
MR: Did you find the reason?
The MM: The unfortunate thing is that it was difficult to move and change because there was probably nothing good to say because the competition was poor, the defense was clearly weak and when we had chances with the ball we couldn’t move with any kind of play. It’s a shame that they pretended to be fans and put up the white flag because points weren’t our aim, but you noticed the fans walking away in the last quarter, which is heartbreaking and embarrassing as a player. You can feel that the game is getting away from you but at the moment you are trying to get back into the game and score goals and make an impact on the game and for some reason we just couldn’t do that. It’s for the whole game.
GW: When you were going to the club, how clear were you about what the date was going to be like?
Z: For me it was Ben, he’s going to be the coach, we’re going to review the game and obviously they’re scared of what these guys are going to think from Edith’s point of view. That was all we knew about driving. Obviously going in and five, six, seven, eight cameramen were there ready to take visions and ask questions, so you know there was a lot going on, but I think the people were there. Individually, they are anxious to reflect on how poor they were on Sunday.
GW: How was Ben today?
ZM: He’s got his chest up, I thought he was very strong and brave enough to help us get ready to play against Richmond on Saturday night. He did not run away from reality, he was open, he raised it. I won’t go into detail about what he said, but he addressed the elephant in the room and talked through the situation and I think players respected that. I think the common theme in the room is that the players are sad that we’re in this position and that he was in that position. I think it’s mostly up to us as players to take some personal responsibility and get to this point, so it’s a disappointing part.
MR: Was it difficult to see him today?
The MM: I think the main theme of the meetings and informally the games in the locker rooms, across the board, we’ve reached a point where there’s been a lot of talk in Round 22 and we’ve been talking constantly throughout the week that actions don’t match the goals and that’s the most frustrating part. We may feel like words tonight, but the only thing we can do is to show actions against a quality team on Saturday night and it’s a shame that we only get one game or show that we can fix it and we can behave properly. This will be consistent. In the end they are words and we feel sorry for Ben.
Ato: Has anyone in the club come forward to comment on what will happen next?
ZM: No I haven’t, like Dyson (Heppel) or Andy (McGrath). It is clear that we have gone through the internal review given to the board, we have heard from him and that is what they have in hand. As leaders we were there to give a clear opinion, we were never approached to give that.
MR: Do you want it?
I think the MM are ready to comment, but we will attend to the players and give advice if necessary, but their role is to manage the club and I think it will be the voice of the members. . I’m there if needed but not needed at the moment.
GW: Do you want to know what the direction of the club might be before you go on an off-season break?
ZM: Yeah, it’s special. I think I’ve addressed the criticism of the direction of the club last year that it’s a bit sad to be out of contract and 12 months later sitting here in a bit of trouble. I’m keen and hopeful that the club and I will be very clear on what they want to achieve in the next two, three, four, five months and how we’re going to achieve it, and I’m going to be massively on track. On that road, but I’m not going to set a date or hope that Tuesday is exactly right.
GW: So your outlook on Saturday night and the end of the season is a big game against a quality opponent. Do you have any fears around that game? What’s your take on that as we sit here on Tuesday night?
ZM: I think we need to show our fans that we have a little brand and a little spine. I think we’ve been a pretty easy team to play with all year…we’ve been very inconsistent. I know four-quarters of that has been turned around. I want to get back out there and play to be honest. It’s so frustrating, so sad. We’re talking, but we want to get out there and show acts and I’m looking forward to that.