Dyson Heppell is making progress in his quest to return to full fitness. (Photo: AFL Photos)

Young midfielder Dylan Clarke will have a delayed start to the season, while experienced campaigners Dyson Heppell and David Zaharakis are on track to be available for the early rounds following Essendon’s first injury update of 2021. 

Clarke, who was reinstated to the Bombers’ list via December’s rookie draft, suffered an ankle injury before the Christmas break, forcing the 22-year-old to undergo surgery.

“Dylan unfortunately sustained an ankle injury in our last session before the Christmas break. We hoped that it would settle over the break, but unfortunately it was more sinister than we wished,” head of high performance Sean Murphy said. 

“He’s gone in for surgery on Saturday to get a clean out, and that will hinder his pre-season preparation for about two months. It’s going to be a gradual build-up for ‘Clarkey’, but hopefully we can get him back early in the season.” 


Heppell, who had surgery in September to fix an issue with a screw in the ankle he fractured in June, is slowly working back into full training. 

Murphy said the 28-year-old was making encouraging progress. 

“Hepp’s in a good spot at the moment. He’s come back in really good shape physically, but we’re just managing his loads from the injury that he had last year,” he said. 

“He’s starting to build in with the main group in terms of their skill program, and now it’ll be a balance between the right amount of conditioning and the football drills. We’ll build his program over the next five to six weeks and have him ready to play good football when he returns.” 

While Zaharakis has recovered from the high-grade quad tendon strain that cut short his 2020 season, the veteran has had a delayed start to pre-season after undergoing surgery on his posterior cruciate ligament (PCL). 

Murphy said Zaharakis was ticking the boxes in his recovery. 

“Zacka had PCL surgery over the off-season. He’s in a really good spot at the moment. All his strength markers are where we want them to be,” he said. 

“He’s starting to build his loads from a running perspective. Hopefully over the next four to five weeks he’ll start to integrate back into the main group and be in full skills training.” 

After his breakout 2020 season was cut short by a syndesmosis injury, midfielder Andrew McGrath has returned to pre-season in full fitness and showing no ill-effects. 


It's also positive news for fellow youngster Tom Hird, who has overcome the navicular stress fracture that sidelined him in his first year at the club. 

“Andy sustained that syndesmosis injury late in the season. As we always expect from Andy, he’s a professional and he did everything over that break to make sure he was right for day one of pre-season,” Murphy said. 

“Pre-Christmas we were able to tick off the last part of his rehab to ensure he would integrate in. He hasn’t missed a beat since and is in full training. He’s ready to go and has been impressive on the track. 

“Tom had that navicular stress fracture last year, which kept him out for the whole season. He has now built up his loads over the off-season through to now, where he’s into full skills and with the full group.

“We’ll keep an eye on his loads given his history, but he’s a little animal and trains at a high intensity, so if anything we’ll need to control him a little bit. He’s in a really good spot at the moment. It’s nice to see him part of the main group and learning the game plan.” 

Essendon will face Geelong at GMHBA Stadium on February 18 in its first competitive hitout of 2021, before rounding out its pre-season campaign against Greater Western Sydney at Manuka Oval on March 5.