Essendon captain Dyson Heppell has hit back at critics who slammed his AFL team for failing to draw a line in the sand after being mocked by Sydney’s Luke Parker.
The Bombers (2-7) are under intense pressure after a horror 58-point defeat to the Swans in Heppell’s 200th game left them wallowing in 16th spot on the ladder.
In the scathing fallout, club legend Matthew Lloyd slammed Essendon’s current players for being “walked all over” and “disrespected” by Sydney.
Lloyd was furious the Bombers didn’t respond when Swans star Parker poked fun at Dylan Shiel and the Bombers over their lack of physicality in the contest.
Former club captain Lloyd said he would have “ploughed through” Parker at the next centre bounce to make a point.
Lloyd and an increasing number of critics have also branded the Bombers “too nice” on the field.
“Everyone has their own opinion, that’s fine, but does he want Dylan to plough through someone, give away a free kick, give away a 50-metre penalty and another goal?” Heppell told Fox Footy on Monday night.
“In this day and age, free kicks are given away so quickly.
“The hardness and the firmness and what you’re talking about with being a ‘nice’ football team, it’s not about giving away free kicks or showing full-blown aggression.
“It’s when the ball’s there to be won, that’s what we want to stand for (and) playing good, quality, tough footy.”
Heppell said he was unaware of Parker’s taunt and hadn’t seen vision of the incident until Monday night.
“By the looks of it, (Shiel’s teammates) all seemed to be oblivious to it,” Heppell said.
“I had no idea it was happening in the moment … but if you’re aware of it in the moment I have no doubt teammates will go straight over and help and support.”
Heppell said he will reinforce the need to support your teammates when they return to the club on Tuesday after two days off.
He also took aim at critics of the perceived “over-celebration” of his 200-game milestone.
Immediately before the Sydney clash, a smiling Heppell embraced family and friends who had lined up either side of the Essendon team as they ran through the banner.
“In a moment like that, I’m going to take the opportunity to be extremely grateful to those that have been there since day dot with me,” Heppell said.
“It has no bearing on the performance whatsoever (and) no one mentions that if we win that game.”