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McGrath eyeing big 2019

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IF Andy McGrath's first year as an AFL player was a buzz and blur – he played all bar two games, was a revelation off half-back and won the NAB AFL Rising Star award – then his second season at Essendon was more of a lesson. 

There were some very good games, switching between midfield and defensive roles, but there was some frustrations, as McGrath worked his way through what he has described as a 'stop-start' campaign. 

But the 2016 No.1 draft pick – Essendon's first ever top choice – is using the experiences from 2018 as he attacks his third pre-season.

"I learnt a lot of lessons about how the best players in the League go about it and why they're the best players," McGrath told AFL.com.au.

"I've put in a few steps in my training to hopefully counteract that and try to become one of those players in the future, but it was definitely a big learning year for me."

There are ways the 20-year-old is trying to implement those learnings, whether it's in his weights sessions, on the track with his running or any cross training. "For me it's about continually trying to do more than players around me and pushing myself," he said.

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The transition from a backline position into a midfield role last year had its challenges. McGrath had come to the Bombers having proven he could play in the midfield at under-18 level for the Sandringham Dragons, and he averaged 20 disposals a game. 

"It is different [in the midfield]. I know I can play there, which is comforting in itself, but the midfield craft at AFL level is a whole other ball game," he said.

"It's great learning off the likes of Zach Merrett, Dyson Heppell, David Myers – they're all great at their craft and experts at that area. To put it simply, I've got a long way to go but it's great to learn off them. 

"I know I'm not the strongest or the tallest person so I've got to find other ways to combat that so I think I'm finding my feet at the moment.

"This pre-season I've focused on taking the ball forward more and using my legs and agility to really break the lines and open up the defence."


Andy McGrath is leaning on more experienced teammates such as Zach Merrett. (Photo: AFL Media)

Essendon will benefit from that. McGrath adds a different element to its midfield mix with his speed and power from a stoppage, and he heads into next year with 41 games under his belt and a strong idea of the level.

The Bombers loved his leadership and character during his draft year, which was a key factor in their decision in taking him with their first choice and have identified him as a future leader of the club.

Already, he's taken it upon himself to be a little more vocal and forthcoming at since returning for pre-season in November.

"It's my third year now and I do feel more comfortable and confident to challenge people and bring people along with you. It's something I really enjoy doing and something I've done in the past and can do in the future," he said.

"A title is something in itself, but there's so many ways you can lead at a footy club. There's more than 40 players that are there to get the best out of themselves every day and there can only be eight formal leadership roles. 

"I'm pretty understanding that I'm a little bit off that and the leaders we have now are amazing. I'm just trying to do my part, whether it's leading the younger guys or challenging that leadership group to take strides forward and get better themselves."

There has been a significant change off the field which McGrath hopes will have an impact on his game, too. He has moved into teammate Darcy Parish's house in Coburg, meaning the end of sometimes hour-long commutes to Tullamarine from Brighton, where McGrath's family lives.

"It's going well. He's pretty good around the house. We both stick to ourselves and give each other space which is nice, but it's just nice to be a lot closer to the club. I feel a lot more refreshed when I come to the club and I'm able to give a little bit more," he said.

"That's something I wanted to do off the back of last year to spend a bit more time at the club and hone in on a few more areas that I wanted to improve on. I've noticed a massive difference."