After undergoing syndesmosis surgery in the week leading into round three, Zach Merrett's chances of an Anzac Day return would have appeared a pipedream.
But with a dogged determination to to everything in his powers to play on the big stage, the dual Crichton medallist achieved the near impossible.
Originally slated to miss at least six weeks, Merrett was back with a bang less than four weeks after surgery, racking up 36 disposals and attending 24 centre bounces in Essendon's 11-point loss to Collingwood.
It was a rapid return that caught many by surprise, including senior coach Ben Rutten.
"Zach bounced really quickly out of that. We’ve had those operations in the past and they’ve been about six to seven weeks, but I think he was about four weeks today. We were pretty surprised with how he was starting to look about a week ago, starting to run, move and train," Rutten said post-game.
"With that injury, once they get the rope and tighten up that syndesmosis, there’s a couple of weeks where it’s really slow to let the wounds heal. After that, it’s about how it’s feeling and how quickly they can tolerate the build-up.
"He looked after it incredibly well in that two weeks. He was determined right from when he got it done. He was floating that he was going to be back today, but we didn’t think much of it. Once he puts his mind to something, he’s a pretty determined young man and he made it happen. It’s a credit to him and our medical guys to be able to support him to do that.
"To play the way he did, I think it speaks volumes to the player and person Zach is."
Like Merrett, fellow All Australian Jake Stringer made a quicker-than-expected return from a hamstring injury to impress with three goals on his 28th birthday.
Rutten said the star duo would improve as the Bombers look to turn around their 1-5 start to the season.
"It was just great to have them back. Jake has put a lot of work in and was able to get back running and doing some work pretty quickly after he injured it (hamstring)," he said.
"They both contributed. They’ve missed weeks of footy and they’ll be better for the run. They’ll continue to improve over the next few weeks."