Two can play at that: Zach and Jackson Merrett. Photo: Getty Images
Zach Merrett wanted to be like his big brother so badly when Jackson got a new pair of footy boots or runners, he would ask for the same pair. At least that's how Jackson remembers it. ''I wouldn't say that's fully true,'' says Zach, after Jackson tells the story, before remembering he wore the exact same pair of boots this year. ''That wasn't copying,'' he says, smiling. ''They were comfy.''
On the night he was drafted to Essendon two years ago, Jackson wasn't as nervous as he might have been. He warned himself against getting his hopes up in the weeks and days leading up to it. Watching the draft last month, and waiting for his brother's name to be called, was a much more stressful experience.
''It was different. I suppose you don't want to build the expectation up when you're the one in the draft, because all the people around you are so excited about it,'' Jackson said. ''You don't want to get too caught up in it when it's your night because you don't want to be let down if your name doesn't come up, but it's not the same when it's your brother.
''Seeing and hearing what people thought about him, I knew he was going to get picked and I felt like I could be a bit more confident and a bit more excited about finding out which club he went to, not get so worried about what could go wrong. It ended up being a good night.'' It was going to be good, no matter which club chose Zach. That Essendon called his name out made it even better. First, it made the boys' parents happy: once Zach and Jackson move in together in the next few weeks they'll have to make only one trip to see their sons. Second, it will give them their first chance to play for the same side since their one and only game together for the Cobden under-14 team.
In his first few days at the club Zach tried not to stick too close to his brother. Most of the players were flying to Colorado for their training camp at the end of that week, and he wanted to get to know them as soon and as well as he could. ''I wanted to meet as many people as possible because I only had a few days to make a good impression,'' said the midfielder. ''I tried not to just follow Jackson around, but he was always there to help. I know if I need advice, he'll help me.''
He's happy to, and having his younger brother at his club has made Jackson think about how quickly your first two years pass, how much there is to take in and how soon other, newer players become the club's kids. He played 13 games last season, figured out what he needed to work on and wants to improve next season. He knows how long it takes to feel comfortable, and that it's something you need to make happen.
''Physically, it's hard. In my first pre-season I reckon I was in bed by eight o'clock every night I was that tired. You need to make sure you get a good night's sleep every night and be prepared to go again the next day, but the biggest thing is feeling like you fit in and like you're someone who can voice your opinions,'' he said.
''Even now it's hard, but it's getting better. In my first year I didn't say boo, I was so quiet, but one of the things the coaches wanted me to do last year was start speaking up more, and the more games you play the more comfortable you feel around the group because you've got no choice. When you're in the senior team you're training with those guys, you're spending more time with them and on game day you have no choice but to communicate and talk, otherwise you won't get the ball.''
Zach knows it's not the only thing he'll have to find his own way through. ''You can get advice on everything but it's up to you to do it and I haven't really thought about playing games yet, I just want to get through the pre-season and learn as much as I can from all of the players,'' he said.