THERE were plenty of times last year when Zach Merrett would still be at Essendon's Tullamarine headquarters hours after all of his teammates had left.
He would stay and watch extra vision in the computer labs, sit next to an assistant coach and go through match edits, or even find a corner of the club's indoor facility, take a ball with him and work on a part of his game.
Sometimes he would leave and not actually know what he had spent two or three hours doing, but he felt if he did more, he would get better quicker. He was so intent on improving fast that his eagerness has become a running joke among some at the club.
"I've been criticised by some people for trying to do too much too quickly," Merrett told AFL.com.au.
"It's true, and I've probably had to understand that it's about quality over quantity sometimes.
"You look at Gary Ablett and he's the best player in the League and you want to be like him straight away. I'm definitely someone who's a bit impatient at times."
The adjustment has come this year, Merrett's second at the club since being drafted at the end of 2013.
He has started a part-time business marketing course at RMIT university, and although he is spending less time at the club, thinks he's getting more out of it.
He feels a little more responsibility, and a lot more comfortable, after 20 games in his debut season.
"Two years ago I wouldn't have even thought I was a chance to be drafted, and then I played 20 games in my first year, which was something that was pretty hard to realise had actually happened. I know what it takes now and understand what I need to do, which is probably the best part," the 19-year-old said.
Merrett has been a consistent member of the Bombers' midfield and forward line this year, averaging 20 disposals in four games.
Over summer he split his time between the groups – probably 60 per cent with the forwards and the rest with the midfielders – to prepare himself for more time on the ball in 2015.
He has also called upon his more senior teammates, including a new one, to help take his game further.
Whenever Merrett gets a chance, he asks Dyson Heppell or Jobe Watson to sit down with him and take him through match vision to see what they pick up from watching opponents.
He's also picked the brain of Adam Cooney, the former Western Bulldog who joined the club during last year's trade period.
There were few at Essendon more excited to have Cooney as a teammate as Merrett, who grew up a Bulldogs supporter.
"He was one of my favourite players watching the Dogs play. Having him come to the club was a bit daunting at the start, but straight away he had a big impact," Merrett said.
Zach Merrett, before being drafted, with brother Jackson. Picture: AFL Media
"I had all the footy cards with him and the Bulldogs posters on the wall when I was younger. It's quite funny being alongside him. I haven't told him yet, this will probably be the first time he finds out.
"It goes unnoticed at times that he's a Brownlow medallist and great player in his own right. I was just thrilled to have him at the club and when I heard there was a chance he could join the Bombers, I was definitely one all for it."
While Merrett has held his spot in the senior team since round six last year and become a first-choice player, it has been a tougher run for his older brother, Jackson. At the start of last year, both players featured in the AFL line-up, before Jackson was injured and spent some time in the VFL.
He has started this year again at state league level (and gathered 29 disposals in the VFL on Sunday). The pair still lives together, and in Zach's first season it was Jackson who talked him through a number of little challenges that come with an AFL career.
They both want to get back to regularly playing in the same team together, but understand the selection process means one may be considered over the other at different stages.
"It's more perceived from the outside, that awkwardness between brothers. But I think as soon as I got to Essendon we tried to break it down as teammates and not get too fussed about the brother situation," Merrett said.
"Obviously I want to see him do well and he wants to see me do well, but at the end of the day we're both fighting for each other's spot at times.
"This year we're probably looking to help each other more with the on-field stuff and develop alongside each other. We'd love to play with each other every week and hopefully that can happen throughout the year."