"Yeah, you dare say they'll be spending a bit of time on each other."

Essendon and Carlton. MCG. 90,000 fans. McKay twins. The stage is set.

There is no doubt that when both these powerhouse clubs are performing well - to the dismay of the rest of the competition - the AFL world is licking its lips.

Well, that's what Bombers captain Zach Merrett believes, anyway.

 2024-06-09T09:20:00Z 
Carlton WON BY 26 POINTS
MCG
ESS   
70
FT
96
   CARL

For the first time in a while, the Blues and Bombers are sitting well within a top-four finish as they prepare for battle, giving fans flashbacks of the 1999 and 2000 seasons.

Speaking exclusively to ZeroHanger, Merrett said such an occasion is a "win-win" for footy while also helping a great cause for one of the club's most recognisable names.

"The first half of my career we were somewhere down the bottom if not mid-tier at best and we were still able to draw massive crowds," Merrett said.

"Both clubs have a strong rivalry but also great respect for each other.

"I think it's just awesome for footy in general, maybe other clubs won't think it, but to see two really strong clubs fighting it out at the top end of the ladder... hopefully we got 90,000 which will be great for the game and also for Neale and his cause.

"I think it is a win-win all round."

The King's Birthday weekend has signified the FIGHTMND campaign for the past decade.

Former Essendon player and Melbourne coach Neale Daniher has been a solider in this space since being diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND) 10 years ago.

Promoting education and raising awareness and funds against "The Beast", the Bombers were fortunate enough for Neale, along with older brother Terry, to come along to The Hangar during the week to deliver motivational messages.

"The Daniher family holds a really firm grip on our club and its history for the 20 years they were involved they had an enormous impact on and off the field," Merrett said.

"The way those guys were brought up, the way their values stand and the way they played exemplifies how we want to play as a group.

"To have Neale come in and speak about his journey. To have Terry also come in, he's a bit of a character and draws a crowd... But to have those two, who bounce off each other, give some history and their stories and what they've achieved as a family, the support they've given to so many families around the world with the research and funds they're raising, is just a really inspiring story.

"We just love having them down (at the club). I know he's impacted, not only us, but the whole industry and all of Australia.

"It was a really special (time) for them to come to the club and I'm sure players took a lot out of it."

Essendon is determined to make the most of its rise from 11th place last year to currently holding second place and is eager to see what else it can accomplish.

The club's potential has skyrocketed with the progress of youngsters Sam Durham and Archie Perkins, along with the addition of seasoned players Todd Goldstein, Jade Gresham, Ben McKay, and Xavier Duursma.

Mason Redman and Sam Durham during the AFL match between Essendon and Adelaide, Round 4, 2022 (Photo by Cameron Grimes / Zero Digital Media)

But key defender Jayden Laverde believes the rise in form has been in the works for years, with 2024 reaping the rewards.

"I definitely think it hasn't just come about recently. It's been more of a build," Laverde told ZeroHanger.

"We didn't quite finish off last year the way we wanted to and boys went away and tried to focus on making a difference to their game and Brad (Scott) has been good at setting standards and giving us guidelines on how we want to play.

"And credit to the boys, we've just been driving that to another level this year. I think our ability to focus on the process, taking it week by week and we've seen some growth from our younger players and also the inclusion of mature age players has really bolstered our side."

With plenty to play out on Sunday at the MCG, all eyes will be on the McKay twins.

A matchup that has been nine years in the making since the brothers were drafted in the 2015 crop of youngsters.

Through injury, form and suspensions, the pair has never been seen on the same AFL field as one another, causing conspiracy theorists to question if there were really two of them.

Ben's teammate and fellow defender Jayden Laverde lifted the lid on what Brad Scott is planning for the Carlton forward.

"Yeah, you dare say they'll be spending a bit of time on each other," Laverde said.

"Our defensive group will be spending different times on different opponents, so we like to work together a bit.

"But he's definitely going to be spending some time on his brother, which will be a good watch for us."

The McKay match-up will have to be seen to be believed, and it won't be believed until Sunday at 7.20 pm AEST.