Dyson Heppell throughout his 14-year AFL career. Pictures: AFL Photos

ESSENDON veteran Dyson Heppell knocked back mega offers to leave the club during its supplements saga, and on the eve of his milestone 250th game the reliable Bomber says he's still as hungry for success as at the start of his career.

Heppell was among the first Bombers to recommit to the club in 2016 as one of the players who sat out that season due to anti-doping bans after the long-running supplements saga.

The 2011 AFL Rising Star winner and would-be captain of the Bombers had rival clubs chasing him during that period but now, as he hits the second half of his 14th season in the AFL, said he was glad to have stayed.

"Looking back now there were numerous opportunities to explore other avenues. But I never really delved into it," Heppell told AFL.com.au this week ahead of his milestone game.

"I was an Essendon person through and through and had so many amazing relationships I'd formulated and created throughout my time here and something I really wanted to do was to see this through, see what we could actually do and hopefully forge some form of success at the back end."


Heppell's career got off to a red-hot start in his debut season and continued to shine, becoming a best and fairest winner and All-Australian in his fourth season in 2014. Across six completed seasons from 2012-2018 he finished in the top-three of Essendon's best and fairest count, showing his versatility and courage throughout.

The outlier to that record was in his season out of the game in 2016, which was the culmination of four years in the spotlight. But born from that tumult was an incredibly tight bond with his teammates, the 32-year-old said.

"It was no doubt very challenging times, that whole period. I learned a hell of a lot about myself through those times and a built real strong mental resolve and resilience off the back of it. I don't look back on it with any animosity or remorse," he said.

"I managed to move on and forgive really quickly and that was part of me trying to free myself. In the end, it built an enormous strength of character and a deep bond and relationship with the guys I went through that with.

"I don't think it's a negative part of my career – I just think it's a phase and something that I'm proud of the way I handled everything through that period.

"A lot of great characters came through in those years so we have a really close relationship with a lot of those boys. A big one for me throughout that phase was that period was the end of guys' careers, whereas I was fortunate that I had a lot of footy ahead of me and I'm still going now. But for the guys who finished up then, it would be a tough one to swallow."

Jake Melksham, Dyson Heppell, Will Hams and Courtenay Dempsey watch James Hird at a media conference on August 18, 2015. Picture: AFL Photos

The ex-Bombers skipper, who captained from 2017-2022, will celebrate his milestone game against Geelong with Essendon perched in third position on the ladder. He said the club knew the opportunities ahead after its 9-4-1 start to the season.

"The possibility is there. It's enormous. Who knows? The ultimate success is what you're striving for and we're giving ourselves a platform to build off at this stage of the year which is super exciting. We've matured as a group, we were in a similar position last year but I feel we're in a far better position to actually embrace it," he said.

Zach Merrett and Dyson Heppell celebrate a goal during Essendon's win over West Coast in round 15, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos



"It's a special milestone and moment of reflection over the last couple of days. The love and support that's come in not only from the Essendon faithful but the broader footy community has been very special. [His history] is such a big part of what I love about the club – the rich history and characters who have come through the doors. Finding out that stat of the 15th to achieve the milestone is pretty cool in the 150-year history. An average of one (player) every 10 years does it so it's very cool." 

"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."

Dyson Heppell and Brad Scott at Essendon's 2023 team photo shoot. Picture: AFL Photos

"They were trying times. At stages it just wasn't getting better and eventually you turn a corner and keep that positive outlook and things healed up really well and I managed to bank a bit of consistent footy over the last couple of seasons. There were some tough moments. I had a number of operations on the feet and ankles and infections to deal with, which do bob up real challenges and test your mental resolve and how much you really want this. You work through those periods and the sweetness on the other side when you do get back to play and realise how much you love the game and camaraderie is pretty cool."

"That's something I've always been able to hang my hat on – coming into game day knowing I've done the work and not hoping. I've put in a lot of work in physically in terms of rejuvenating and recovering. I got a lot smarter about the extra sessions as the career went on. I used to be all about doing more work but now it's about being smart and even more so mentally with moments of meditation and looking at different avenues to improve with breathwork, ice immersion, getting into the beach early, even taping my mouth, wearing nose strips for sleep. I'm a bit of a weirdo like that but we love it."

"Jobe Watson, Zach Merrett, Michael Hurley. Jobe's leadership capabilities were there but his big-game moments dragging his team over the line through sheer competitive will [stood out]. Zachy is just an all-round weapon, he gets tagged week-in week-out and just has the greatest mental resolve to handle those situations and has grown so much as a leader. He's the best kick I've ever seen and decision-maker. And 'Hurls', you could play him forward or back but I remember just being so inspired by the bloke, he'd [take] multiple intercept marks, be bodying up on some of the biggest blokes on the ground and just a real awesome character to have around the group."

Jobe Watson, Michael Hurley and Dyson Heppell celebrate Essendon's win over Hawthorn in round one, 2017. Picture: AFL Photos

"I was a really bad sport when I was young. I was a shocker. I cracked tantrums, I'd be crying if we lost, all that jazz. So I'm not sure… the character of my parents instilled those type of values in me as a kid and my brothers are the same. We're optimistic, positive, outgoing people and we try to see the light in most situations."