DYSON Heppell will head into the 2020 season with a new look and also confidence he is edging closer to a return to full fitness after his foot injury.

As Essendon returned to pre-season training on Friday, the Bombers skipper concluded the session by shaving off his famed dreadlocks to raise money for Wildlife Victoria and the Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund after the bushfires that have ravaged communities in recent months.

Heppell raised $285,000 before the trademark locks were cut off, with donations still open for the next couple of days.

The Essendon captain before shaving his head on Friday. Picture: Getty Images

He has set another target on-field, too, with the midfielder hopeful of playing in at least one of the Bombers' Marsh Community Series clashes ahead of round one.

The 27-year-old wasn't a part of the main group at training on Friday as he continues his recovery from off-season foot surgery which corrected an issue that limited him in the second half of 2019.

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"It's tracking really well. I've had a great few weeks of progression over the break and I'll be outside as of tomorrow building up my preparation into round one," he said.

"Pre-season games we'll just map that out. We'll play it by ear on how it's tracking, but it would be nice to get at least one hitout in before the start of the season and see how we go."

Essendon's first Marsh Community Series clash, against West Coast at Lathlain Park, has been pushed forward to be played on Thursday, February 27 to accommodate for the bushfire relief game on Friday, February 28. 

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The Bombers then head to Colac on March 9 to face Geelong. Heppell said he would put his hand up for selection for the Victorian line-up against the Al Stars but was unlikely to be fit by then anyway. 

"I'd love to play in that. I think I'm well down the pecking order in that, though. I'm still tacking along with my rehab at the moment so probably wouldn't get up for it anyway, but it's an amazing initiative and I reckon all the best players from every team in the competition will get around it," he said.

Heppell wasn't the only big name sidelined as Essendon players came back from their Christmas break on Friday.

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He was joined in the rehabilitation group by David Zaharakis and Zach Merrett, while Mason Redman, James Stewart, Jayden Laverde, Irving Mosquito, Will Snelling, Brandon Zerk-Thatcher, Noah Gown and Lachie Johnson were all away from the main group as well.

Cale Hooker (hip) and Joe Daniher (groin) were unsighted during the session as both recover from surgeries.

However, in better news for the Bombers, Dylan Shiel (knee) and Orazio Fantasia (hip) trained strongly with the main group, while Devon Smith also continued his healthy pre-season after having last season largely wiped out by knee troubles. 

Orazio Fantasia trains with Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti at The Hangar on Friday. Picture: Getty Images

"For me a lot of the boys who are in rehab are experienced, mature boys who have a lot of pre-seasons under their belt and there's still plenty of time leading into the season," Heppell said.

"It's obviously not ideal, you'd rather every bloke to be on the park every training session, but I think for a scenario for myself it's nearly a little blessing.

"There's no pressure to lead from the front on the training track, you let the younger boys really develop their leadership and take control."

Heppell's fundraising effort overshadowed all, however, and he said the bushfires had been especially devastating given his links to the Gippsland region in Victoria.

"I'm very proud and extremely humbled by the support I've had, not only from the Gippsland community and footy community, but Australia-wide," he said.

"My best mate was in Mallacoota at the time [of the fires] with family and I caught up with him yesterday, he took the Navy ship back and just hearing some of the stories from him was heartbreaking."

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