Heppell focused on improving baby Bombers
The forecast was bleak for Ben Rutten’s side after an off-season exodus, but they sit two and four through six rounds with a combined margin of just four points in losses to Hawthorn and Sydney.
The strength of Heppell’s leadership was evident after the Swans loss, as he reinforced the team’s growth and singled out young players such as Harrison Jones and Brayden Ham for praise.
“It was pretty spontaneous,” Heppell told SEN Breakfast.
“(With) that sombre feeling after a tough loss, sitting there in a bit of silence, I thought it was an opportunity to let the group know we aren’t that far off and they’re doing a hell of a lot right.
“I guess just trying to keep them in the right mindset to keep attacking the way we have.”
In each of their six games, the Dons have averaged fewer games per head than their opposition, but Heppell wants them to embrace their youthful flair.
“I’ve tried to have a focus on the younger guys who have come in, (to) make them understand ‘don’t wait your turn to either get a game or take ownership of the footy club,’” Heppell explained.
“I try to empower them as early as possible to really feel a part of it and start driving standards and leading in their own right.
“I guess trying to make them feel really comfortable.”
Rutten has blooded five Bombers in six rounds, and integrated 20-year-old recruit Jye Caldwell, ex-Suns forward Peter Wright and defender Nick Hind.
Nik Cox has settled on a wing and wowed observers with his dexterity and mobility despite a 199cm frame, Archie Perkins has defenders guessing on a half-forward flank, while second-year forward Jones’ raw talent has pulsated in a key position.
“The young guys that have come in have taken it in their stride, are learning every day and are just bringing some real vibrancy to the club,” Heppell enthused.
“It makes it an easy role for me, it has challenges with wins and losses, but we’ve been able to keep it pretty stable in terms of reviewing games, focusing on trying to learn and grow each day.”
He says the players’ sense of purpose has been sharpened under Rutten, with the rookie coach bringing a more decisive edge than they’d previously experienced.
“There were certainly times when you needed someone to take the reins and make calls, when you’d want some real clarity,” Heppell recalled.
“‘Truck’ has taken that in his stride, he’s the one making the decision but in conjunction with senior players and leaders as well.
“He leans on us for advice at times, but he’s the one that makes the final call which has been really important for the group. We’ve thrived off that so far.”
Essendon (2-5) went down to Carlton by 16 points in round 7 after leading by 21 points midway through the second quarter.
-BY NATHAN JOHN/ SEN