18/04/2024

Dyson Heppell won't play this week with a thumb injury. Photo: Essendon FC

Essendon captain Dyson Heppell won't play this week after undergoing a minor procedure on his thumb on Wednesday morning.

Essendon captain Dyson Heppell won’t play this week after undergoing a minor procedure on his thumb on Wednesday morning.

The surgery will see him out of Friday night’s clash with the Adelaide Crows at Marvel Stadium, coach Ben Rutten confirmed.

“He had a little thumb operation this morning, so he won’t play this week,” he said.

“We’re fortunate we’ve been able to get it all looked at and get him in straight away, so he’ll miss a week.

“Hopefully [it’s just the week], but we’ll see.”

Heppell has had his best season in years for the Dons after his move to half-back. Getting a clear run with injury, the former Rising Star winner is averaging 24.8 disposals, 7.2 intercepts and 7.5 marks per contest, all rated elite in the AFL.

He’s played 13 of a possible 16 games in 2021, and the minor procedure should only see him miss the one game which means he could return for Essendon’s match against North Melbourne in round 18.

A name that has popped up as a possible replacement is mid-season draftee Sam Durham. The hard-running, aggressive 20-year-old was selected by the Dons after playing with Richmond’s VFL side earlier in the year.

He’s played a mixture of half-back and wing roles for the Dons Reserves, showcasing his elite aerobic capacity and tidy disposal, as well as an appetite for the contest.

Rutten is looking forward to bringing him up to AFL level, and could happen sooner rather than later.

“He’s played a few games now for us, and looking better and better,” Rutten said.

“We really like what he brings, physically he brings some really strong traits, he uses the ball really well [and] he’s got an element of toughness and hardness about him.

“It’s just about finding that right time. It’s not easy for a mid-season draftee to come into a brand new footy club that’s up and going in their season.

“There’s been a fair bit of education and we’re just trying to balance all that out, not try and ram everything into him in a week and still let him play with a bit of freedom and see what he’s got, so it’s just balancing all that up at the moment, but we certainly think he’s going to be a player for us.”

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Durham has the capacity to play as a defender at AFL level, which puts him in the frame to potentially replace skipper Dyson Heppell, although Marty Gleeson is another option who would provide experience down back as well.

Asked if Durham could come in to play a role akin to Heppell’s at some point this season, Rutten was optimistic.

“Yeah potentially, that’s certainly what we’re hoping.

“We drafted him in the mid-season thinking that he was ready to go pretty soon from a physical point of view.

“Obviously, last few weeks we’ve had a closer look at him, obviously playing in our VFL team. Hopefully he keeps progressing and he’s not too far away.”

Aaron Francis has also returned to the club after a few weeks back home in South Australia. The key defender won’t play football at any level this week as he builds up his running loads once again.

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