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'How many days has it been?' Finals drought driving Dons

Pre-season slog heats up across Australia A Footy Feed update with Matt Thompson

THE ANSWER to your question, Zach Merrett, is 5190.

That's how many days since Essendon last won a final - the elephant in the hangar on Monday as the Bombers started pre-season training.

There is plenty of reason for optimism at Tullamarine, with star recruit from Greater Western Sydney Dylan Shiel joining his new teammates ahead of schedule.

Injured key forward Joe Daniher, a key to Essendon's 2019 prospects, also went through some running drills as he returns from the osteitis pubis that ruined his season.

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But the Bombers dropped out of the top eight this year and have the AFL's longest current drought without a finals win - dating back to 2004.

"It's a good question, isn't it ... it has been a while," Merrett said when asked about their pass mark for next year.

"How many days has it been?

"It would be easy to fall into the trap of saying exactly what you want to do, but we just have to try to keep improving every day."

With Shiel a significant addition to Essendon's midfield, Merrett hopes to have a greater impact in attack as well as contribute more in leadership.

Merrett said he had a coffee with Shiel as the Giants star weighed up offers from the Bombers and rival clubs.

"The fact he chose us over other clubs is obviously exciting and the fact he thinks we have a good group together, who hopefully can push forward, is really exciting for us," Merrett said.

"He's a really explosive player, his work in the centre bounces was something we really highlighted when we played the Giants.

"But his ability to go forward and kick goals has been pretty special as well."

Dylan Shiel in his new colours. Picture: Getty Images

During their post-season break, Merrett and Daniher went to London for a sports leaders' forum.

Merrett, an All Australian last year, is coming off a challenging season where opposition taggers went to work on him.

Ed Curnow's job on him in the upset round eight loss to Carlton was a low point, before Merrett and the Bombers finished the season strongly.

Merrett said it was all a valuable learning experience. Just don't ask him about form.

"I don't really believe in form, so I wouldn't go towards that," Merrett said.

"What's form? If you can define it for me ... I think 'form' is you go out there thinking you're going to play well or poorly.

"How I go - obviously I'm not going to win every (contest) - but I don't believe there's some 'form' thing over my head that's going to mean I play well or poorly before a game."

Joe Daniher gets back in the swing of things. Picture: Getty Images