Heppell a likely Bombers AFL captain: Hird - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Heppell a likely Bombers AFL captain: Hird

By Sam Lienert 07/09/2011 06:41:43 PM Comments (0)

Essendon coach James Hird has declared AFL Rising Star winner Dyson Heppell a likely future captain and says he has not witnessed a comparable debut season.

From strong pre-season performances, to an opening round debut which earnt him his Rising Star nomination, to his ability to string games together, Hird said he knew of no one who had adapted to the AFL like the 19-year-old.

"Not at Essendon definitely, there hasn't been someone who's made that transition both on-field and off-field," Hird said.

Hird said Heppell, a contender to become the first Bomber to win the club's best and fairest in his debut year since the legendary John Coleman in 1949, had been a natural leader since he joined the club.

"His strength of character is such that he has a really good chance of being captain of our club one day," the coach said.

While the Rising Star award had been viewed as a two-way battle between Heppell and runner-up, West Coast midfielder Luke Shuey, it turned out a near-unanimous choice.

Of the nine judges, eight gave the silky-skilled Essendon halfback their maximum five votes and Shuey four, with Eagles great Glen Jakovich the exception, reversing the order.

Both Heppell and Shuey played every home and away game, helping the Bombers climb from last year's bottom four to this year's finals and the Eagles from wooden spooners to top four.

Both youngsters will play their first final this weekend.

Hird said he had intended to rest Heppell during the season but he became almost indispensable.

"I told him he wasn't going to play the (round six) Gold Coast game and it got closer and I thought 'Gee, we wouldn't want to lose to Gold Coast, we need him,' so I put him in.

"Then before we played West Coast about four weeks ago, I thought the right thing was to give him a spell and we got close to the game and I said `No, we need him.'"

He said Heppell's resilience and character was as impressive as his talent and would prove every bit as useful over the course of his career.

Heppell, a lifelong Essendon fan, said it still stunned him he was playing with his heroes, let alone being voted the competition's best young player.

"Growing up idolising (Bombers captain) Jobe Watson and what-not, now walking into the locker room and chatting with them every day, training with them and playing with them, it is amazing. I still do see myself as a bit of a fan," Heppell said.

From Leongatha in country Victoria, he sounded like a star-struck teenager when he described how Hird visited him the night before last November's national draft, in a Gold Coast caravan park.

"It was the first time I met James, I was shaking in my boots," Heppell said.

Surprisingly, he said he had little interest from Gold Coast, whose recruiting concessions gave them four picks before the Bombers entered the draft at No.8.

Heppell was awarded the Ron Evans Medal and a $20,000 investment portfolio from award sponsor NAB.

Shuey is in his third year on the Eagle's list, but endured a horror run with injury and illness over the first two, before his breakthrough season this year.

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