Dyson Heppell announcement stuns Essendon on eve of AFL season

The Essendon captain stunned his teammates on Friday morning.

Essendon captain Dyson Heppell (pictured) walking off the field.
Essendon captain Dyson Heppell (pictured) has stood down as captain of the Bombers only weeks out from the season. (Getty Images)

Essendon captain Dyson Heppell has made the surprise decision to stand down as captain after six years in the role. Heppell shocked his teammates the decision on Friday morning, which continues the changing of the guard at the Bombers for 2023.

Essendon will now have a new captain, coach, chief executive, president, high-performance manager and board member for the upcoming season. Heppell's announcement came as a surprise given it was only last week that new coach Brad Scott said there was a strong likelihood the 30-year-old would remain as captain.

HUGE: Dayne Zorko announcement stuns AFL world on eve of 2023 season

BIG IDEA: Patrick Dangerfield ignites AFL world with trade period proposal

Early calls are for three-time best-and-fairest winner Zach Merrett to replace Heppell as captain, with Mason Redman and Andrew McGrath viewed as the other main candidates. On the team website, Heppell thanked the club for allowing him to fulfil a dream and leading his boyhood team for six seasons.

"As a little tacker, playing AFL footy was a dream, let alone playing for the club I supported and then further to that becoming the captain of that club," Heppell said. Over the past six years, I had enormous pride and respect for my role as captain.

"Leadership can be a tough caper at times, but it has given me so much joy and has played a big part in my growth as a person, player and teammate.

“I owe an enormous amount of gratitude and thanks to the various players and playing groups, coaches, staff and Board members for backing me in over the years as well as our loyal fans and members.”

AFL world reacts to Dyson Heppell news

Heppell was only 20 years old when he was first named in the Bombers' leadership group in 2013. In 2016 he was appointed vice-captain and in 2017 he succeeded Jobe Watson as captain.

Dyson Heppell (pictured middle) leads the team out.
Dyson Heppell (pictured middle) has stepped down as captain of Essedon. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

The 30-year-old has captained Essendon in 107 matches, placing him fifth on Essendon's all-time list for games captained. Dick Reynolds (224 games) and James Hird (158) headline that list.

The AFL world was quick to sing Heppell's praises for his role in leading Essendon for six tough years. Many appreciated Heppell's leadership through the club's difficult times.

President Dave Barham also thanked Heppell for his time and labelled him the 'ultimate team man'. “Dyson Heppell is the ultimate team man. Not for the first time, Dyson has done what he thinks is in the best interest of the club and the team,” Barham said.

“On behalf of all supporters, thank you for your contribution as captain of our club. We all look forward to the next part of your playing career and remain forever grateful for your outstanding contribution to this club.”

Essendon will announce their new captain and leadership group over the next week. Merrett looms as the standout candidate for the captaincy, with the 27-year-old among the best midfielders in the competition.

with AAP

Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.