Vice-Captain Andrew McGrath is rapt with the team camaraderie amongst Essendon's playing group in their charge up the ladder.

Andrew McGrath has seen it in spades this year with the behind-the-scenes efforts of the Bombers’ senior contingent, who’ve overcome personal battles with injury to stay upbeat around the club and inspire their teammates.

For McGrath, it’s been most apparent in the case of close friend Darcy Parish, whose efforts haven’t gone unnoticed in Essendon’s locker room amidst their good run of form this season, even as he battles a niggling run with injury.

Speaking to SEN Sportsday this week, McGrath said the emergence of the Bombers’ midfield group lent itself to Parish’s willingness to help his teammates within the four walls.

“The growth that I’ve seen in Darcy (Parish) and his mindset, his perspective on footy and what he can control has gone to another level,” McGrath said.

“(Darcy) just wants to be out there, he’s an ultimate competitor, one of my best friends. The rise of guys like Sam Durham and Jye Caldwell has a lot to do with guys like Darcy and Zach (Merrett) investing time in them.

“I know Darcy’s in a bit of a frustrating period personally, but his ability to come out of himself and impact our footy club has been first class.”


McGrath believes Dylan Shiel has been an unsung contributor to the Dons’ 7-2-1 record so far this season, making his first appearance in the AFL line-up this season as the substitute in Sunday’s 40-point win over North Melbourne.

Despite enduring a pre-season significantly hampered by injury, Shiel’s attitude and professionalism around the club has yielded good results for his teammates.

“(Dylan’s) been dealt a rough run of injury, a few innocuous ones that are pretty tricky to overcome, but to his character and professionalism he never put a foot wrong,” McGrath said.

“He’s put in a mountain of work behind the scenes - similar to Darcy (in) his ability to come out of individual hardship and help guys around him - he’s super close with ‘Sammy’ Durham and they’ve been working really closely together.

“Just his overall vibe around the club has really helped us thrive for that growth mindset and adopt a few of his elite behaviours, which has been a credit to him.

“It was super exciting to have ‘Dyl’ out there, some people forget how talented and how much of a beast he is on the field.”


The unselfishness has extended to the bookends of the ground for the Bombers, who’ve placed a big emphasis on their team defence this year.

As long as each player is buying into supporting their line and playing a role, even at the forward end of the ground, McGrath’s confident the results can keep coming the side’s way.

“We’ve put a lot of time and effort into trying to resurrect (our team defence),” McGrath said.

“What I’ve learnt first and foremost is that defence is a ‘whole team’ thing, you need all 18 players on the ground completely buying into that and understanding their role, how it affects other people up and down the ground.

“The (forwards’) ability to work together and open up channels for one another, for (Pete) Wright, ‘Langers’ (Kyle Langford) and ‘Guelf’ (Matt Guelfi) to block for each other, they’re just working in sync at the moment and it’s really exciting to watch.

“They’re opening up pockets of space and disinterested in who’s getting the final result as long as the team can score and that’s been a huge uplift for them, individually they’re all playing great footy off the back of that, but they’re buying into the right things.”

Essendon’s group buy-in has stemmed from many factors this season, but a frustrating end to the 2023 season has long stuck in the minds of the playing group.

The ups and downs of an AFL campaign play an important role in shaping a young group, and as the Dons aspire to continue their good form in 2024 from second spot on the ladder, McGrath’s staying focused on the tasks that lie ahead while embracing the internal and external excitement.

“We’re realistic about where we’re at, we’re excited by what’s to come but we’re also putting our head down and getting to work,” McGrath said.

“As players, supporters, anyone connected to the football club, we’re aware of the situation we’re in and we’re very excited by that, but on the same token we’re very understanding that the ladder changes so quickly and rapidly in the modern game.

“(The end of last year) stung for a long period of time. You never want to end a season the way we did, but from those losses and challenging times we were able to bond together and really commit to one another that we didn’t want to feel that way again.

“You learn about yourself, your football club and the guys you do it with more so when things are tough more so than when things are flying, but we’re committed to the process.”