K rock Football

Fit skipper eyes Dons improvement

Can Essendon improve on last year’s eighth-place finish in 2022. (Sports Media Image/Marcel Berens)

FIT and firing in pre-season for the first time in years, Essendon skipper Dyson Heppell is determined to lead the charge as the Bombers attempt to move on from last season’s disappointing AFL finals exit.

The Bombers proved one of the most exciting teams in 2021, winning their final three regular-season games on the bounce to snatch a finals spot, but crashed out in their elimination final against the Western Bulldogs.

“Really enjoyed the season and felt like we made some fantastic inroads but to bow out like that was quite disappointing,” Heppell told reporters on Monday.

‘There is a lot of hunger and drive coming off the back of that to try and better that, for sure.

“(Required areas of improvement are) right across the board in terms of the way we play.

“I thought we found some consistency in the way we defended the ground and a good balancing in our attacks.

“It’s just taking those to another level and preparing ourselves to play the best footy we possibly can.”

After a foot injury – the latest of several injury setbacks – ruined his 2020, Heppell bounced back from a limited pre-season to have a strong 2021 off half-back and is primed for this season.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been cracking in pre-Christmas and had a nice break and able to train properly so nice to be back out there,” he said.

“Barring COVID, we’ve got the majority of the list healthy and training properly so it’s good.”

Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti missed the final three games of 2021 due to personal reasons and managed a tight calf before Christmas, but Heppell had “no doubt” the forward could get back to his best.

“He’s a star, Walla,” he said.

“Get his body healthy – we’re supporting him as much as we possibly can to get him in good nick – and I can’t wait to play with him again soon.”

Veteran defender Michael Hurley, who missed all of 2021 amid complications from a hip infection, is making slow progress.

Heppell said the “heart and soul” Hurley had made great inroads over the past six weeks but conceded round one would come “too soon” for the 31-year-old, who is yet to fully hit the track with his teammates.

Meanwhile, Heppell expected “ready-made” first-round draft pick Ben Hobbs, an inside midfielder, to make an early mark.

“I reckon you’ll see plenty of footy from him this year,” he said.

“He’ll bring a good bit of grunt on the inside but he’s got footy smarts as well.”

(C) AAP 2022