“It’s very disappointing for both Dyson and the club. Currently, it is difficult to put a timeframe on a return prior to him having surgery, but we remain hopeful he will return to the field this season.”
The Bombers are undefeated through two matches and are due to face Melbourne on Sunday with 14 rounds plus finals remaining in the abridged 2020 season.
The setback is shattering for the highly regarded Heppell, who battled through the end of last season because of a nagging left foot injury that required surgery soon after the Bombers tumbled out of the finals in the elimination final when they lost to West Coast.
He missed round one and took time to resume running during the COVID-19 shutdown but he was able to gradually build his fitness and was a handy contributor in Essendon’s win over Sydney at the SCG last Sunday.
The 28-year-old has been a durable performer since making his debut in 2011, however he missed 2016 when he was one of 34 players from the 2012 list who received a season-long ban after WADA found them guilty of committing an anti-doping rule violation.
Veteran defender Michael Hurley is likely to lead the team against Melbourne in Heppell’s absence although Dylan Shiel, Devon Smith and David Zaharakis are all candidates as part of the 2020 leadership group.
The Bombers included Irishman Conor McKenna and youngster Brayden Ham to replace Heppell and Matt Guelfi, who was dropped. Orazio Fantasia failed to pass a fitness test.
Meanwhile Melbourne made a big call dropping former skipper Nathan Jones from the team that hung on against Carlton, with Luke Jackson and Alex Neal-Bullen also left out.
The Demons brought back livewire Kysaiah Pickett after he was suspended last week for breaching the AFL’s COVID-19 protocols, alongside Aaron Vandenberg for his first game since the 2018 preliminary final and Mitch Hannan.
Fremantle key forward Jesse Hogan has been selected to play against Port Adelaide at Metricon Stadium, along with Stephen Hill, while Port Adelaide included former skipper Ollie Wines to replace injured defender Ryan Burton.
The Suns brought back experienced pair David Swallow and Brandon Ellis to take on the Crows who lost talented defender Wayne Milera with a foot injury.
Peter Ryan is a sports reporter with The Age covering AFL, horse racing and other sports.