Essendon skipper Dyson Heppell has lauded the five players that were whisked into the Bombers’ senior line-up during a chaotic lead-in to Saturday night’s clash with Hawthorn, saying their selfless attitude and infectious joy were crucial to the remarkable win.
The under-fire and severely undermanned Bombers pulled off one of the biggest boilover wins of the AFL season yet, slamming on seven unanswered goals in the final term against the Hawks to turn a 17-point deficit into a 27-point win and record their second victory of 2022 so far.
It came after the Bombers were forced to make five late changes, with Jordan Ridley, Jake Kelly, Matt Guelfi, Alec Waterman and Sam Durham all withdrawn due to illness.
Watch every blockbuster AFL match this weekend Live & Ad-Break Free In-Play on Kayo. New to Kayo? Try 14-Days Free Now >
All four Essendon emergencies — Brayden Ham, Kaine Baldwin, Brandon Zerk-Thatcher and Aaron Francis — came into the side, as well as Devon Smith — who was facing some time on the sidelines due to a knee injury — and 2021 draftee Alastair Lord, who ultimately made his AFL debut as medical sub.
Speaking to Channel 7 post-game, Heppell said the energy in the Bombers’ rooms – despite the strong external criticism, which included questions over the club’s preparation for Saturday night’s match – was brilliant.
“‘Truck’ (coach Ben Rutten) gave me a buzz a bit after lunch and said ‘we’re on a bit shaky waters this arvo and a few boys have gone down’,” Heppell said.
“But the guys that came in, just their energy and attitude and willingness to play their role. The guys nearly came in with a bit of a – well, you talk about smiling, anyone can jam it, I tell you what, for telling us to stop smiling.
“We came in and there was just a great vibe in the rooms and produced a fantastic performance.”
A proud Heppell lauded his teammates for their performance considering the circumstances.
“That’s unbelievable, to be honest,” he said.
“You come into a game with a bit of a sense and a feeling and I’m just so proud of the attitude the boys have been sticking to over this whole period. There’s been a lot of outside noise, but within the four walls it’s just been an unbelievable environment for the circumstance we’ve been in.
“To show up, with (five) blokes out late with illness – it’s just an unbelievable effort.”
Star forward Peter Wright, who booted six goals, said the late withdrawals was a “bit of a spanner in the works”, but added the array of negative commentary in the lead up to the game didn’t affect the players.
“This week was probably a good opportunity where we just tried to play our best football,” he told Fox Footy’s Best On Ground.
“We tried to eliminate a lot of the outside noise that’s out there at the moment. We’re not playing our best football.
“But to respond the way we did today, we’re really happy. It’s the first step in a long season.”