Why Essendon Veteran Dyson Heppell forgave the Bombers and stayed

As he approaches his 250th game milestone, Essendon stalwart Dyson Heppell reflects on his resilient career with Cal Twomey.

Amidst Essendon’s supplements saga, Heppell turned down lucrative offers to depart the club, underscoring his unwavering commitment to the Bombers. As one of the first players to recommit in 2016 following anti-doping bans, the 2011 AFL Rising Star winner and prospective Bombers captain rebuffed interest from rival clubs during that tumultuous period. Now, as he marks the latter half of his 14th AFL season, Heppell expresses contentment with his decision to stay.

“Looking back, there were many opportunities to explore other paths, but I never seriously considered them,” Heppell shared with AFL.com.au this week. “I’ve always been deeply rooted in Essendon and have cultivated numerous meaningful relationships here. It was important to me to see this journey through, to see what we could achieve and hopefully create some success in the later stages of my career.”

Heppell’s career ignited with a strong debut season and continued to flourish, earning him a best and fairest accolade and All-Australian honors by his fourth season in 2014. From 2012 to 2018, he consistently ranked in Essendon’s top three in the best and fairest count, showcasing his versatility and courage.

The exception to this streak was his season away from the game in 2016, marking the culmination of four years under intense scrutiny. However, from this challenging period emerged a profound camaraderie with his teammates, as the 32-year-old reflects.

“Those times were undeniably tough,” Heppell acknowledged. “I learned a tremendous amount about myself during that period and developed a strong mental resilience. I harbor no bitterness or regret looking back on it,” he added.

“I was able to move forward and forgive quickly, which was crucial for my personal growth. Ultimately, it strengthened my character and forged deep bonds with the teammates who shared that journey with me.”

“I don’t view it as a negative chapter in my career — rather, it’s a phase that I’m proud of navigating well,” he emphasized. “We developed close relationships with many great characters during those years. It was especially poignant seeing some teammates’ careers conclude during that time, while I was fortunate to have plenty of football still ahead of me, and I’m still going strong today.”

The former Bombers captain, who led from 2017 to 2022, is set to mark his milestone game against Geelong, with Essendon currently positioned third on the ladder. He expressed confidence in the team’s potential following their strong start to the season at 9-4-1.

“The potential is immense. Anything is possible. Ultimately, we aim for success, and we’ve established a solid foundation to build upon at this stage of the season, which is incredibly exciting,” he remarked.

“We’ve grown as a unit. While we found ourselves in a similar position last year, I believe we’re better equipped now to seize the opportunity.”

DYSON HEPPELL ON…

BECOMING THE 15th BOMBER TO PLAY 250 GAMES

“It’s a significant milestone and a time for reflection over these past few days. The outpouring of love and support from not just Essendon supporters but the wider football community has been truly special,” he shared.

“The club’s rich history and the remarkable individuals who have been part of it are what I cherish most. Discovering that I’m the 15th player to reach this milestone in the club’s 150-year history is quite remarkable. That averages to one player achieving this feat approximately every 10 years, which is pretty cool.”

BRAD SCOTT’S INFLUENCE IN PROLONGING HIS TIME AS A BOMBER

“The main message from Brad was just instilling a hell of a lot of belief in me. It gave me full confidence that my best footy was still ahead of me. It was something I hadn’t really thought of. I’d always prepared really, really well and gave everything but in terms of setting my mind to play the best footy of my career in the later phases of my career, he just gave me a real backing of support.”

FOOT AND ANKLE INJURIES WHICH THREATENED HIS CAREER

“It was a challenging period. There were times when things didn’t seem to improve, but eventually, I turned a corner and maintained a positive outlook. I managed to recover well and string together consistent performances over the past few seasons,” he reflected.

“It wasn’t without its difficulties. I underwent multiple operations on my feet and ankles, dealing with infections that posed significant challenges and tested my mental fortitude and dedication to the game. Working through those tough times, the joy on the other side when I returned to playing and experienced the camaraderie again, was really special.”

WHAT’S BEHIND HIS CONSISTENCY

“That’s something I’ve always prided myself on — stepping onto the field knowing I’ve put in the necessary work, not just hoping for a good outcome,” he explained. “Over the years, I’ve invested heavily in physical rejuvenation and recovery. I’ve become much more strategic about additional training sessions as my career progressed. It used to be about doing more, but now it’s about working smarter, especially mentally.”

“I’ve explored various methods like meditation, breathwork, ice baths, early morning beach visits, and even unconventional practices like mouth taping and nasal strips for sleep. It might sound a bit eccentric, but these are things that have helped me improve and I’ve embraced them fully.”

THE BEST THREE BOMBERS HE HAS PLAYED WITH

“Jobe Watson, Zach Merrett, Michael Hurley — each brought unique leadership qualities to the team. Jobe was exceptional in critical moments, often single-handedly lifting the team with his competitive drive. Zach, consistently tagged week in and week out, demonstrated incredible mental toughness and has evolved into a top-tier leader. He’s renowned for his exceptional kicking skills and decision-making abilities.”

“‘Hurls’ was versatile, capable of playing both forward and back. I was always inspired by his ability to take multiple intercept marks and his fearless approach to facing off against larger opponents. He’s also a fantastic character to have around the team.”

THE ORIGINS OF HIS OPTIMISTIC APPROACH

“When I was young, I was actually a pretty poor sport. I had a tendency to throw tantrums and would even cry if we lost — I was quite the handful in that regard. Reflecting on it now, I think a lot of those values were instilled in me by my parents and my brothers. We’re all optimistic, positive, and outgoing individuals who strive to find the silver lining in most situations.”

 

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