McGrath, Hurley boost Bombers in AFL

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Essendon aim to add captain Dyson Heppell to their run of good AFL news, with coach Ben Rutten hoping he will stay next season.

The Bombers announced on Friday that No.1 draft pick Andrew McGrath has re-signed for two years, plus key defender Michael Hurley will return at last this weekend through the VFL.

A hip infection means Hurley, a two-time All Australian and a much-loved player at Essendon, has not played in the AFL since round 18, 2020.

On the field, Essendon (5-11) can win three in a row for the first time in their barren season when they host Gold Coast on Sunday at Marvel Stadium.

Asked if they wanted Heppell to stay for next season, Rutten said: "Absolutely. We're talking with Dyson at the moment about what that looks like so that won't be too far off.

"We've been pretty clear with 'Dys' and have communicated with him about all that."

Heppell is 30 and has played 207 games for Essendon. He has been captain since 2017 and has spoken about handing it over to a teammate such as McGrath or Zach Merrett.

"That's something I want Dys to be a part of," Rutten said.

McGrath, the top pick in the 2016 draft, has played 106 games for the Bombers.

The new deal takes him through to the end of the 2024 season, when he will be eligible for free agency.

Despite Essendon's slump this season after making the finals last year, McGrath is confident they are on the right track.

"I've loved my six years at the club so far and I'm extremely excited to continue my journey with Essendon," he said in a club statement.

"My love for the playing group is immense and I'm very grateful for the faith the club has had in me.

"By no means are we a finished product, but the processes we are putting in place now despite a tough year will hold us in a strong position moving forward.

"I believe we are building something special and creating an environment to be successful. It's an exciting time to be an Essendon person."

Hurley's return is also a significant boost for morale at Essendon.

"It's a great story for him - perseverance, resilience - and the way he's conducted himself internally, externally, it's been first-class," Rutten said.

"He's a great role model for everyone and everyone is really pleased to see him back."

Rutten hopes Hurley will return to the AFL by the end of the season, after plenty of uncertainty about whether he would play at any level again.

"It was looking pretty grim there," Rutten said.

Essendon will also regain Mason Redman from COVID-19 for the Suns game.

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