Team Heppell backs Dyson
FORMER Leongatha footballer Dyson Heppell is already preparing for a return to the Australian Football League (AFL) in 2017, after being suspended from playing his beloved game until November 13 this year.
He was among the 34 past and present Essendon Football Club players banned from playing during the 2016 season in the wake of the club’s controversial supplements program designed to improve players’ recovery and strength.
In 2012, Dyson and his teammates received banned substances, including Thymosin Beta-4, under the club’s supplements program run by sports scientist Stephen Dank, but club chairman Lindsay Tanner said the players had believed the supplements were legal.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld the World Anti-Doping Agency’s appeal against the Australian Football League Anti-Doping Tribunal’s decision of March 31, 2015.
The AFL’s tribunal had dismissed charges of breach of the AFL’s Anti-Doping Code brought by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA), the national anti-doping organisation.
Dyson was anticipating his first season as the club’s vice-captain in 2016, but now faces a year away from the club and the game.
Of some consolation to the Heppell family is that Dyson’s younger brother Aaron, who last year played six games with Essendon’s Victorian Football League side, may now be recruited to the Bombers’ senior list, as Essendon will lose 12 current players due to suspension.
Dyson’s father Paul, a Leongatha builder, said while Dyson was devastated, Dyson would train with his suspended teammates and pursue other interests until he was eligible to return to professional football.
Nonetheless Paul said Dyson felt robbed of an opportunity to play as vice-captain.
“He was really looking forward to playing under (captain) Jobe Watson but hopefully that leadership role will still continue. Because the 12 players can’t play at the club, they have to stick together and will probably train together outside of the club to keep up their fitness and skills,” Paul said.
Dyson’s elder brother Jamin Heppell defended his brother and fellow players, saying elite athletes paid by a club must trust club staff.
“You must believe that the people around you have your best interest at heart and the team’s best interest, otherwise you create a culture of mistrust and suspicion which will not equate to success,” he wrote on Facebook.
“Trust in your team is fundamental in any team in any industry trying to achieve success. So when an expert pharmacist and biochemist tell you to take something, believing that it is for the betterment of your football and the team, you take it.
“In a success culture there should be no need for questions, and these men believed they were working in a culture of success.”
As a result, Jamin said, “I blame the club for negligence of its duty of care over the players, and I just feel for the men, their families and their partners who are affected in this moment and for the rest of this year.
“Finally from an older brother to younger brother I just want to say: Dyson Heppell you are a remarkable leader and I know you will pull through this one as you always do and I know you will bring the rest of these men with you.”
The punishment issued by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Tuesday, January 12, devastated Essendon players and their families.
“After what they’ve been through over the past three years, we thought they would not have got too heavier a sentence,” Paul said.
“But we could not believe it.
“It was a shock that he has a year out of the game now. We are very disappointed with it and will move forward.”
Dyson has an interest in Port Melbourne gymnasium F45 Training, is completing a building course and is renovating a house at Moonee Ponds.
“So he certainly won’t be sitting around doing nothing,” Paul said.
Paul was uncertain whether any players would take legal action against Essendon for failing to provide a duty of care.
“But that’s not to say it won’t come up,” he said.
Despite the saga embroiling Essendon for the past three years, Paul said Dyson had managed the strain, with his family always offering support and continuing to do so.
“We have urged him not to dwell on it. Yesterday (January 12) was a reasonably emotional day but now the dust has settled a bit, he will be fine,” Paul said.
“He loves playing footy and there will be that transition. For the last five years he’s been going to the club nearly every day so he’s certainly going to miss everyone.
“It will be tough but all the players will get around it.”
Suspended players are not permitted to be involved with grassroots clubs, ruling out the possibility of Dyson taking up a role with Leongatha or Alberton league clubs.
Dyson returned to his family in Leongatha last Tuesday, January 12, after learning of his suspension that morning.
He celebrated Aaron’s 21st birthday with his family at a breakfast gathering at Inverloch on Wednesday, January 13, before heading to the Murray River for a holiday.
Last Wednesday, Paul said Aaron was yet to learn of his prospects of playing for Essendon’s AFL side.
“It will be exciting if Aaron could be involved but it will be a long shot. It is up to the recruiting staff,” Paul said.
“If Aaron is what they are looking for, who knows, if he is, it will be a real bonus.”
An Essendon spokesperson said it was too early to determine the new players and whether Aaron could be selected.
Bombers chairman Mr Tanner described the penalty imposed on the 34 players as “manifestly unfair”.
“At all times our players acted in good faith. They sought assurances and were provided them,” he said.
“If ever there was a case to be made for no significant fault (of the players), this was it.”
Mr Tanner said the court’s findings were devastating for the players.
“The finding is heartbreaking for our players, who will struggle to understand how two tribunals could come to different conclusions based on the same evidence,” he said.
“We felt that the comprehensive verdict of the AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal last year was the correct one.
“Notwithstanding that, we do acknowledge the authority of the Court of Arbitration for Sport and we must accept its decision.”
Mr Tanner, on behalf of the club, again apologised to the players and the club’s supporters for “a mistake of the highest magnitude” in its decision to implement its controversial supplement program in 2012.
Dyson was unavailable for comment.
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