Star Essendon midfielder Zach Merrett. Picture: AFL Photos

ZACH is back.

Essendon has reinstated Zach Merrett to its leadership group a year after the star midfielder was surprisingly axed from the role, with the Bombers locking in Dyson Heppell as skipper for another season. 

Merrett, who is a free agent this year, has returned to the four-player leadership group and will act as joint vice-captains alongside Michael Hurley and Andrew McGrath.

It is the first time McGrath, seen as a potential successor for Heppell as captain of the club, has been elevated to the leadership group.

Merrett returns to the position having spent four years in the leadership group from 2016-19, including having captained the club when Heppell was sidelined.

"Dyson, Michael, Zach and Andy each possess outstanding work ethic, professionalism and commitment to the Essendon Football Club," said coach Ben Rutten.  

"These players lead by example and are committed to the program's values, so they are each to be congratulated on this achievement."

2021 will be Heppell's fifth season as Essendon's captain, although it is unclear when the former All-Australian will be available to play as he recovers from further ankle surgery in the off-season.

He is still expected to be on a modified pre-season training program for at least another six weeks after an injury-riddled 2020 campaign. 

David Zaharakis, Dylan Shiel and Devon Smith, who were all voted in last year, will not be in the Bombers' leadership group this season as Rutten opts for a smaller group. 

Heppell said the Bombers want to be a more consistent side this season after their dismal 2020 campaign. 

"As a playing group, we’ve spoken about wanting to be a really dependable and hard-working football team. While we can set the example as a leadership group, it takes all of us to drive this football program forward. I’m excited to see what this playing group can bring in 2021," he said.