Merrett backs Heppell to lead Dons in AFL

Zach Merrett, who at age 20 will serve as stand-in skipper of Essendon this weekend, is backing Dyson Heppell to captain the AFL club in 2017.

Brendon Goddard is leading the Bombers because 12 of their players, including captain Jobe Watson, were given doping bans at the start of the year.

Goddard suffered a groin injury last weekend and will miss his first game of the season on Sunday, when the Bombers host Gold Coast at Etihad Stadium.

Coach John Worsfold opted to look to the future when picking Goddard’s replacement, asking the midfielder with 56 games’ experience to step up.

A more-challenging question for Worsfold will come during the off-season, when he settles on a leadership group for next year.

Watson is among the five banned Bombers yet to indicate whether they will return to the club.

Even if Watson doesn’t retire, there is a good chance Heppell will be given the gig.

“It’s definitely something to aspire to but I think Dyson is probably the man for next year,” Merrett said on Thursday.

“He’s been fantastic for this footy club.

“Dyson did his apprenticeship last year and I think he’s ready to go.”

Merrett will be 20 years and 316 days old on Sunday when he tosses the coin, making him the third-youngest man to captain Essendon in VFL-AFL history.

Bernie Quinlan holds the overall league record, having been 20 years and nine days when he was stand-in skipper of Footscray in round 18 of the 1971 season.

Merrett plans to pick the brains of Heppell and Goddard, while mentor Chris Judd has also been a sounding board.

“He’s probably got a bit annoyed sometimes with the number of questions I’ve asked,” Merrett said of Judd.

“(Judd’s leadership advice was) to be myself. Be authentic and lead the way I normally lead. Not much is going to change.

“It’s very exciting … a very good opportunity.

“No other 20-year-old except for (Western Bulldog Marcus) Bontempelli, in the last probably five or 10 years, has had this opportunity.”

Meanwhile, Essendon chief executive Xavier Campbell suggested the club would be willing to trade Michael Hurley but they expected the in-demand banned defender to recommit.

“Hurls is very close with his teammates; (there is a) strong association with that group. They’ve been through a very-challenging period together,” Campbell told SEN radio.

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