DAYS before last year's Anzac Day meeting with Collingwood, Essendon midfielder Jake Melksham received a phone call from his coach, James Hird.

"I don't know if you're going to play this weekend," Hird said.

Melksham had never heard his coach tell him that, and got the hint; he hadn't started the season in great form, and although the numbers looked good against St Kilda the previous week, the match tape wasn't strong viewing.

But could he really be omitted for the biggest day of the home and away season, having played 52 consecutive games?

"I knew it was a chance after that call but I never thought it would actually happen," Melksham told

The news was delivered at a recovery session at the St Kilda Sea Baths, and Melksham drove home in a daze. "I was thinking 'Of all the games, he's dropped me for this one'.

"I was filthy. I was absolutely filthy. Even when I think back now I'm still filthy, and he always says it's the best thing that's happened to me, because I came back and that was a bit of a turning point.

"But I still won't thank him for it," Melksham said with a smile.

After watching his teammates beat the Magpies, something he had never experienced on Anzac Day,  he waited two days before heading to North Ballarat with Essendon's VFL side.

He played well, the side won, and he headed back to Melbourne with some confidence, but still wasn't sure where he sat.

"I thought it was surely going to be a one-week thing, but then again the boys won by eight goals so it was hard to know," he said.

"I had to stick to the plan. I was annoyed but I never showed that to anyone else or whinged or complained. I thought that I had to take it on the chin, don't bring anyone else into it, and they'll respect that more."

Jake Melksham celebrates his match-winning goal against Carlton with Jason Winderlich. Picture: AFL Media

What made it harder for Melksham was that he entered 2013 confident things were going to change after a 2012 season that didn't go to plan.

Leading into 2012, his third AFL season, Melksham added five to six kilograms of muscle and was playing at about 86kg having usually stayed at about 81kg. "I put on too much," he said. "My running wasn't there."

He played every game that year but somewhat through necessity as the club endured an injury-ravaged end to the season.

He felt ready to show the competition why he was a No.10 draft pick in 2009, and felt a good game was coming, but it didn't click.

"I was training well but it didn't relay into my games," he said.

"It was a waiting game. Everyone was waiting, I was waiting, and I had a few games where I was almost there ready to have a really good game and it just never came.

"I doubted myself but I wasn't silly enough to believe that I couldn't do it at all. I always knew I could do it, it was just about keeping a calm head and not panicking."

Which leads us back to 2013, and how a two-year process saw Melksham turn himself into the player Essendon knew he could become.

Melksham has discovered a few things about himself over the last few years. One was about managing his body, and knowing how to build and maintain a fitness base without crashing.

He now trains in four-week blocks before spending a couple of days on lighter duties, and doesn't do every session the club's program dictates.

He's also learned he plays better with some clear tasks, or when he is "given a job".

When he came back into the side after his one week in the VFL, he was given a tagging and run-with role.

He found himself being led to the ball by the opposition's best players, and noticed that if he concentrated on winning one-on-one contests, he could have a good game.

One came, then another and another. By round 11, against Carlton, it came together.

After a slow start, Melksham and the Bombers gathered pace after half-time, and he finished with 21 touches and three goals, the last being the match-winner from a set-shot in the dying moments.

"I just remember thinking 'If I kick this I'm just going to celebrate as hard as I can' and it went through and turned out to be one of our best wins of the season," he said.

It kick-started a run of impressive games. His kicking was pinpoint, his aggression at the ball there, his fitness at a better level, his composure more evident. Most of all, he thinks, his conviction was back.

"The difference is unbelievable. You don't feel like no one can stop you, but you have this belief. I'm sure Jobe [Watson] goes out every week thinking like he is the best player on the field, not because he's arrogant but because he believes he can be, and all the other good players in the competition would do the same," he said.

"Once you've got a few good games behind you it flows on. It's unbelievable what confidence does."

In his last 12 games the 22-year-old averaged 21 disposals, and finished fifth in the club's best and fairest, a surprise for him on the night.

The fact his rise coincided with the club being under enormous duress through the supplements scandal provided more pride.

"Nobody's ever gone through what we did. But it's nothing that we want to reflect back on. It's in the back of our mind that we've achieved good things under bad circumstances, but we'll move on," he said.

"I just tended to block it out in the end. I didn't listen to the media; it just went on for too long. Most of the time I actually didn't have much knowledge with people when they did ask me anyway, because I never really listened."

Melksham's 2013 campaign has a flow-on effect. With four years and 80 games under his belt, he is looking for more of the same – and even more – in 2014.

"My expectations on this season would be, at a minimum, nothing less than last year. I just want to look to build on that and get the ball rolling from the start of the season and not take for five or six rounds to get myself going," he said.

"It probably does put a bit of responsibility on me but I'm fine with that. I think I'm ready for that now.

"I've got a good season under my belt now and I'm just ready to build on that now and develop and so is the group."

Twitter: @AFL_CalTwomey