Essendon's Zach Merrett celebrates a goal in round eight against Hawthorn at Marvel Stadium on May 7, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

ZACH Merrett has been appointed Essendon captain, replacing Dyson Heppell at the helm of the Bombers.

Defender Andy McGrath will be vice-captain to Merrett, who has played 184 games for the club and takes over after Heppell stood down last week.

Merrett was Heppell's vice-captain last year and captained the Bombers for the first time late in 2016 as a 20-year-old, while McGrath was the deputy vice-captain in 2022.

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"It is a huge honour to be selected as the next captain of Essendon," Merrett said.

"Some of the finest names in Australian football have been captains of Essendon. From Reynolds to Clarke, Daniher, Hird and Heppell, it’s humbling to join this list of champions of Essendon.

"This is a great club with a great future, and I look forward to playing my role as an on-field and off-field leader. I feel very humble to have been given this opportunity, and I thank Brad Scott, the coaching staff, football department and my team-mates for their confidence."

L-R: Andrew McGrath, Dyson Heppell, Brad Scott, Zach Merrett and Dylan Shiel during Essendon's official team photo day at the Hangar on February 14, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Speaking to last week, before the appointment was confirmed, head coach Brad Scott said he couldn't have been more impressed by Merrett since he joined the club.

"In the five months I've been here, he has not put a foot wrong, he has led by example on the track and again, I always knew he was a good player, but I've been pleasantly surprised on the upside," Scott said. 

Heppell captained the Bombers for 107 games, having taken over from Jobe Watson in Watson's final season in the AFL.

The club is yet to confirm its full leadership group that will support Merrett and McGrath.

Essendon midfielder Zach Merrett in action against North Melbourne in R20, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Scott said adding a depth of leadership options below the club's 2023 leaders will also be a focus. 

"Arguably as important as our official leaders in 2023 will be the program we put underneath with those players in the mid-20s age demographic so they can be the next leaders of the club," he said.

"Part of the reason I wanted to keep a really open mind is I think once the club makes decisions, they're hard to undo. So we have to spend 12 months really developing our leaders and appealing to their strengths."

Essendon, who hasn't won a final since 2004, will enter the season with a new captain, coach and chief executive after a tumultuous end to 2022, when the club finished 15th and sacked Ben Rutten as coach.