Having moved from country Victoria just one year apart to pursue their AFL dreams at Essendon, Zach Merrett and Darcy Parish have always shared a close bond.

But in 2021, their sixth season together, the on-field connection has grown rapidly with the duo starring side by side in a midfield that has propelled the Bombers to a finals campaign.

Darcy Parish and Zach Merrett during their first season together in 2016. (Photo: AFL Photos)

In Parish’s move to a full-time midfielder this season, the ball magnets have been able to display a chemistry that has been built for over half a decade.

It has seen them combine for 1360 disposals this season - 28 short of the all-time record for combined disposals for two players at one club in a single season – claiming All-Australian honours in a year where the club’s engine room was undermanned for large periods.

Reflecting on their crowning achievement so far this season, Merrett said he and Parish had fuelled each other to reach lofty heights.

“Obviously with Darcy Parish and the duo we’ve started, we’ve built our connection over this year and that has been really exciting,” Merrett said.

“Darcy and I have trained together for five or six years now. We understand each other’s strengths really well and understand the way in which we play and how each makes decisions on the field. It’s built off hours and hours of training together.

“We spent time in the off-season training together at Preston, out on the City Oval there. We brought that momentum together into pre-season. When he got his opportunity, he was ready to take it and I think we built a really strong combination with guys unfortunately out with injury.

“It’s been really exciting to see him flourish and I’m sure we’ll get better and better as we keep playing more games together.”

Parish’s rise to an elite midfielder has been one of the Bombers’ success stories of 2021.

Having been inconsistent in past seasons, the 24-year-old has hardly put a foot wrong in a year that has also seen him claim the Anzac Medal, Yiooken Award and Tom Wills Medal as best afield in the Bombers' feature matches.

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Parish said he was grateful for the guidance of Merrett, who this season re-joined the club’s leadership group as joint vice-captain.

“We’ve been building our relationship over the years. This year he really challenged me to build on my consistency and be a real leader and performer for this club,” Parish said.

“I’ve been working really closely with him and we’ve made a nice duo in there, giving each other a fair few handballs along the way.

“I love playing alongside him. I know his strengths and weaknesses and we help each other along the way. He’s been super for me.” 

Merrett and Parish become the Bombers’ first All Australians since 2017 and 35th and 36th selections in the AFL era, with the latter collecting his first blazer and the former his second.