IF ESSENDON is to improve on last season and win in September it will be needing as many big-occasion players available come finals as possible, making a hopeful return by Michael Hurley as important as any.

Hurley almost pulled the plug on his impressive career after his 2021 evaporated due to a serious hip infection, but the key defender fought his demons and is committed to getting back on the field this year.

No date has been set for a comeback yet but round one is unlikely, according to Bombers skipper Dyson Heppell.

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"It (round one) is probably a bit too soon in the way he’s progressing," Heppell told the club's website on Tuesday.

"There's no real timeframe on it honestly, and he's not putting any cap on himself for when he can return.

An injured Michael Hurley leaves the ground in round 18, 2020 - also John Worsfold's last game. Picture: Getty Images

"He'll just keep working with the fitness staff and physios in being really diligent with his program and put no timeframe on that. He's in really good spirits, he seems really healthy and he's moving around quite well."

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Hurley turns 32 mid-year and is definitely in the veteran class, but there’s no doubt Essendon is a better side with him in it, not that he hasn't been contributing plenty in his time on the sidelines.

"He's the heart and soul of this club, he's a real loveable type of bloke." Heppell said of his vice-captain.

"The energy he brings around the club is fantastic, and it'd be bloody good to have him back on track."

Being involved in early pre-season training is somewhat of a thrill for Heppell himself who is enjoying his first full pre-season in six years.