Dyson Heppell’s ‘genetic’ foot problem has him struggling

Essendon captain Dyson Heppell is in serious doubt for Saturday’s clash with North Melbourne — and may have to carry his foot injury for the rest of the season — after failing to train with the main group at Tullamarine yesterday.

Heppell, who was a late withdrawal last week, is battling a “genetic” foot issue that coach John Worsfold said may have been aggravated by recent games at Marvel Stadium and in Perth.

Worsfold said before training that getting through the session yesterday was crucial in terms of Heppell’s chances of playing against the Kangaroos, but the skipper did little more than kick a few balls on the sidelines and sign autographs as his teammates went through their paces.

The coach admitted his star midfielder may have to carry the injury through the remainder of Essendon’s 2019 campaign, but hasn’t ruled out surgery at some stage to repair an unfused growth plate in his foot. Heppell had surgery on his other foot to repair the same issue a few years ago.

“He has had it for a few weeks and it has been pretty good,” Worsfold said.

“(But) he came off a couple of games in a row at Marvel Stadium and (Perth’s) Optus Stadium, a couple of grounds that are talked about as being a little bit harder.

“Hopefully, he will be able to get through (the season) and be able to manage it all the way through. He had it in his other foot and had it fixed a couple of years ago. This one may or may not need some intervention (surgery).”

Worsfold held out some hope Heppell could play this weekend, but that confidence would have been severely dented by the fact he didn’t take part in any of the main group training.

“If it was really sore we would probably rule him out (earlier in the week) but if it was progressing, we may give him an extra couple of days,” Worsfold said.

Essendon’s physical performance manager, Justin Crow, explained Heppell’s issues on the club’s website: “Dyson has an unfused growth plate in his foot, he also has the same in his other side, which he eventually had pinned a few years ago.

“From time to time that gets sore. He was at the point at the end of last week where that soreness wasn’t at the point where we were prepared to put him into a game.

“We’ve given him a bit of time in the moon boot to see how much that settles this week and we’ll be testing him towards the end of this week to see whether or not he becomes available to play.”

Meanwhile, Worsfold has backed underperforming back-up ruckman Zac Clarke to take on North Melbourne colossus Todd Goldstein in what looms as a make-or-break clash with North Melbourne.

The much-maligned Clarke returned to the Bombers’ senior side last week for only the fourth time this season, given regular ruckman Tom Bellchambers (calf) is on the sidelines for at least a month.

Clarke has drawn criticism for his limited impact when playing in the AFL this season and, while he had only had five disposals against the Swans last week, he still managed to win the hit-outs with 25.

Worsfold is confident the 29-year-old can improve with more game time under his belt, even if the spectre of Goldstein looms large on the weekend.

“We have the option to look at Zac Clarke taking him (Goldstein) on, we will assess all of that and work out the way to go about it,” Worsfold said.

“It will certainly make planning a little easier in terms of Zac being aware of what he is going to be up against. All we can ask for Zac is to play his role for the team and make a good contest.”

The retirement of Matthew Leuenberger meant the Bombers brought in the former Docker in the rookie draft, after a strong season in the WAFL with Subiaco.

Prior to this season Clarke hadn’t played AFL football since 2016, so Worsfold expected the veteran to build his confidence with a string of games played.

“It wasn’t surprising that his best quarter (last week) was his last quarter. He started to get into the groove of the game, so it was a great hitout,” Worsfold said.

“He hasn’t played a lot of footy (but) I am confident he will be able to improve with more game time and give us a good contest.”

Worsfold said David Myers — who made the selfless call to drop himself after the round 8 loss to Sydney to promote the club’s younger mids — had been “up for selection” for the past month.

“I talk to ‘Myersy’ regularly about what the team needs and where he is at and we weigh all that up. We make the call on whether he is likely to come in or not.”

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