Dyson Heppell says finals on Essendon Bombers’ radar

ESSENDON captain Dyson Heppell is resolute in his belief the Bombers can return to the brand of football that led them to the finals last year, despite falling to 1-4 after a disappointing performance against Fremantle on Easter Sunday.

The Bombers’ team defence, midfield performance and pressure have been put under the microscope this week, with the club falling to 15th after starting the season as a premiership contender a month ago.

Heppell and Collingwood captain Scott Pendlebury spoke to the media ahead of Monday’s Anzac Day blockbuster at the MCG, the Bombers skipper confident his side can recapture its identity in time to resurrect its campaign, just as it did last year when recovering from a 2-7 start to play in September.

Scott Pendlebury of Collingwood and Dyson Heppell of Essendon at the 2022 Captains Day. Picture: AFL Photos

“I think we try and stand for a blue collar, hardworking team. I think that’s what the foundation of what Essendon itself is built off,” Heppell said.

“The word ‘effort’ has been thrown out there; no one goes out there not to try; we’ve reviewed this really hard.

“The brand that we managed to produce last year, we had a real identity around our pressure and our speed, our ability to hunt ground balls, hunt the opposition and win the ball back in the forward half. They are a lot of the key pillars that have stood up in our game and have been patchy and inconsistent so far this year.

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“Full confidence and belief in the group. I have no doubt that it won’t take a month, six-week period, we can turn it around really quickly. Pretty sure we were in a similar position last year and still managed to make the eight.”

Heppell said it was important Essendon maintains its normal routine reviewing the loss to the Dockers and preparing for the Magpies, rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water. 

Essendon captain Dyson Heppell consoles debutant Ben Hobbs after the R5, 2022 loss to Fremantle. Picture: AFL Photos

“You’ve got to keep things consistent; you’ve got to review it properly, which we have and we will continue to do that over the coming days and then train with real intent and purpose and that’s the way we’ve been approaching it, week-in, week-out,” he said.

“I think we’ve put in a body of work, it just hadn’t shown up on game day. I have full trust and belief that we will get that back on track.”

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With vice-captain Zach Merrett sidelined with a syndesmosis injury and veteran leader Michael Hurley still missing with a long-term hip injury, Heppell and deputy vice-captain Andrew McGrath have had to wear the brunt of the scrutiny this week.

“You take things to heart at times (as captain), but internally you’ve got to try and steady the ship,” he said. “I think guys have handled things really, really well. They’ve taken ownership of how we’re performing and we’re not shying away from that. A really great opportunity. What better way than trying to stand up on Anzac Day?”

Essendon and Collingwood players line up before the Anzac Day clash in R6, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Collingwood captain Scott Pendlebury said the players and coaches are clear on the crackdown on umpire dissent this season and don’t have an issue with the shift, after the rule was put back in the spotlight following several contentious moments across round five.

“No offence, but I feel like the media is the last group to understand it. The players all have a handle on it; the coaches pretty clearly say we know what to expect; it’s the media that seem to have a big issue with it and that goes into the public forum because it gets spoken about so much,” Pendlebury said.

“As players, we are so clear that anything we do will be 50. We have pre-season games where we were playing a practice match and giving six or seven away and now we wouldn’t even have one a week. We are getting a lot better at it.

“The message the AFL is sending is the right one: we are so many umpires short at the grassroots level and we want a lot of these young kids to umpire games of football. At some point we’ve got realise its bigger than what happens out here, it is what happens at the lower levels as well. We want umpires umpiring this great game.”

Pendlebury will play in his 15th Anzac Day encounter when Collingwood looks to end a three-game losing streak next Monday at the MCG.

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