Essendon vice-captain Andrew McGrath has commended a youngster for his ambition to join the group of senior Bombers who underwent a high-intensity pre-season training camp in the United States last month.
A highly-touted top-five draftee in 2022, midfielder Elijah Tsatas was one of approximately 15 seasoned Essendon players who travelled to Scottsdale, Arizona to go through their pre-season paces with acclaimed professional trainers.
The burgeoning Tsatas, who was rewarded with his first of four debut-season appearances in Essendon's Round 21 fixture against the West Coast Eagles, was the youngest member of the cohort that made its way stateside in November.
McGrath, who spoke to Herald Sun journalist Glenn McFarlane about the group's enriching experience abroad, praised the youngster's ambition and boldness to participate in the venture.
"Elijah was our youngest guy there," McGrath said, via the Herald Sun.
"He was in the Airbnb [house] with me, we had three houses around Scottsdale, where we were staying.
"I think back to when I was 19 and I don't think I would have (voluntarily) done a camp like that. It would have been outside my comfort zone and too demanding. So for someone like Elijah to put his hand up … [it] was a big thing.
"We are all close mates, but it is another step when you are only 19 … I was super proud of him and how hard he worked. He has taken a lot away from the camp. He loves his American sport, and now he loves America.
"You can't read into the future too much, but the work he is putting in now will hold him in good stead (going forward)."
The contingent of inspired Bombers recently returned to the Hangar after the intense two-week training stint.
McGrath explained that the player-funded trip was initially floated by a few players but quickly became a popular idea among the Essendon playing group.
"It started with a smaller group of about five [players] and as things panned out, other guys got wind of it," he said.
"Once the club showed how happy they were and how proud that we were going down that route, some of the players thought 'this is something which might suit us as well.'"
Despite a promising 4-1 start to Brad Scott's maiden season in charge of Essendon, McGrath's Bombers faded in the second half of the 2023 campaign, winning just three of their last ten games and resigning to another bottom-ten ladder finish.
"There comes a point in your career where you hit a crossroad, and either you continue the way it is going or you change it, and Essendon fans and players have sort of heard the same narrative time and time again," McGrath said.
"In conjunction with Brad (Scott) and the player leaders, we are sick of that a little bit. We want to achieve something. We want to be a great group.
"We know that every other club wants the same thing, so we have to push in a slightly different direction, or find little gains here and there that every club is searching for.
"If that makes one per cent difference to our season next year, it will be 100 per cent worth it."