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Dons skipper, pacy defender racing the R1 clock

Essendon skipper Dyson Heppell averaged 27 disposals last season - AFL,Essendon Bombers,John Worsfold,Dyson Heppell,Conor McKenna,Exclusive
Essendon skipper Dyson Heppell averaged 27 disposals last season

ESSENDON expects captain Dyson Heppell and running backman Conor McKenna to be available for the start of the season despite the pair nursing nagging injuries.

Heppell walked laps at training on Wednesday and watched as teammates took part in match simulation drills as he deals with hamstring tendinitis.

Coach John Worsfold said the Bombers are managing the 26-year-old to ensure he is fit and available to face Greater Western Sydney in round one.

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"[Heppell has] a bit of tendinitis in his hamstring. It's just like, [we will] rest him so you knock it on the head straight away so it doesn't linger," Worsfold told AFL.com.au.

McKenna has spent more time away from the main group during the Bombers' summer, battling a groin issue that flared up towards the end of last season. 

The lightning-quick defender has been regularly spotted running laps in the rehabilitation group, and has only recently rejoined main drills as the club builds his conditioning. 

"He's had a sore groin. He was on a reduced program and I think he'd been carrying a bit of groin soreness, and that didn't resolve when he had his break," Worsfold said.

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"When he started running again it was sore. As he's kept building up they haven't shaken it, but he's back starting to join in some drills now.

"He's getting a lot of volume in so I think he'll be right."

The Bombers are being cautious with key players Zach Merrett (ankle) and Cale Hooker (hamstring) but both are not at risk of missing the start of the season.

However, the wait looks set to continue for rebounding defender Martin Gleeson, who is still yet to resume full training nearly 12 months after he went down with a serious ankle injury in last year's JLT Community Series. 

Gleeson played 60 games between 2015 and 2017 and become a staple of Essendon's defence, but has yet to find the same range in his ankle to return to the main group.

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"It was a horrific injury. The way he landed and what he did to that ankle was terrible. It's a bad injury, so [we're tying] to get his ankle back to be able to flex to the full level," he said. 

"No doubt Marty's been frustrated that he hasn't been able to just do footy training yet, but he's pretty fit. The focus is getting his ankle as good as it can be so he's got a lot of footy to play in his career. 

"I have no idea [on a timeline for his return]."

The main focus at Essendon from a fitness perspective remains on star goalkicker Joe Daniher, who took part in the club's short match simulation training on Wednesday.

Worsfold was able to mould a forward group together last year in Daniher's absence that scored well, with the likes of Shaun McKernan and Mitch Brown offering marking targets and Jake Stringer spending more time closer to goal.

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The coach said he was pleased with Daniher's progress and optimistic he would be fit to face the Giants.

"I'm not sweating on how he's tracking today or saying 'Is he on track?' My guess is that he's a fair chance he'll be right for round one," Worsfold said.

"He's following a program and he won't play until he's ticked every box. If he has a setback and misses one day, that could mean that come selection day for round one he hasn't ticked that box and we won't pick him. 

"The fact that he hasn't done a full training session yet means it'll be tight, but his running volume was bigger than the rest of the squad's last week.

"He's getting the volume of training in, so [when he gets back] it's really just going to be his touch and his footy nous getting that back to an elite level."