MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 14: Zach Merrett of the Bombers directs his teammates during the round 21 AFL match between the Essendon Bombers and the Gold Coast Suns at Etihad Stadium on August 14, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Essendon football boss Dan Richardson has explained the club’s decision to leave out Zach Merrett from their 2020 leadership group.

Merrett – who captained the Bombers on six occasions in 2020 in the absence of Dyson Heppell – was left out of the Dons five-man group that was announced on Tuesday.

Richardson said he is hopeful that the exclusion will give Merrett a chance to become a better leader within the side.

“We feel really comfortable with the leadership group as it stands right now and I’m sure Zach will come back bigger and better and will use this as an opportunity to continue growing his leadership and the way he goes about it,” Richardson told SEN Breakfast.

“We asked players for feedback around some on and off-field roles and around their leadership and I think an important point to make is Zach still rated well, he just didn’t rate as highly as the other five in the group.

“I don’t think the fact that he’s not in the official leadership group, people shouldn’t make the assumption that he’s a poor leader or not leading at all, he is, and I’m sure he will continue to do.

“Along with other strong leaders like Joe Daniher and similar to what the situation was with Michael Hurley last year.”

“The process was a little bit different to previous years, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest it was harsher, but the fact that it is a different process means you may end up with a different outcome.”

Richardson also revealed that star forward Orazio Fantasia opted to be left out of the leadership group.

“It’s true that (Orazio) received really strong support to be in the leadership group,” he said.

“I think all along with discussions with ‘Raz he was really focused on getting his body right and feeling that his best contribution to the team will be to get out there playing a bit more regularly and getting back to his best where he hasn’t quite been in the last couple of years.

“I think it’s a selfless decision that he thought it was the best thing for the team.”