Essendon players smiling, Dyson Heppell press conference, tells crticis to jam it in interview, Leigh Matthews

Essendon skipper Dyson Heppell has doubled down on his determination to keep the mood among the Bombers’ playing group jovial – no matter his side’s win-loss record.

But AFL legend Leigh Matthews believes players owe it to their fans to appear disappointed immediately after losses, with Brownlow Medallist Jimmy Bartel saying fans could interpret post-defeat smiles as if the game “doesn’t mean much” to players.

Essendon players had come under fire in the lead-up to their epic comeback win over Hawthorn on Saturday night, not just for their on-field performances but the way they’d conducted themselves post-match and during training.

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Four-time Port Adelaide best and fairest winner Kane Cornes last month took aim at the Bombers, claiming players didn’t look like they were “hurting” after their poor 48-point loss to Fremantle as vision showed some laughing with their Dockers opponents.

St Kilda legend Nick Riewoldt last week questioned the Bombers’ preparation for their match with the Hawks, telling AFL 360 Extra “you see a lot of smiles” in vision of the club’s mid-week training session and that a ‘let’s just have fun’ attitude was “the worst” approach a struggling club could take.

Speaking after Saturday night’s 27-point win – in which the Bombers overcame five illness-related late withdrawals and a 25-point deficit to claim victory – Heppell told critics to “jam it for telling us to stop smiling”.

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Heppell went again on Tuesday at a press conference ahead of his 200th AFL match.

“I heard it (the criticism) second-hand, I didn’t see much of it, but people send a couple of things through,” Heppell told reporters.

“Genuine carry-on from a lot of people. Are you going to tell your kids or wife to stop smiling because they have a bad day at work?

“I’m always an optimism, positive type of bloke and I’m going to come in as my authentic self and that’s enjoying my time here and celebrating my teammates. Whether that’s in a win or a loss, you still get around teammates, you celebrate them and try to enjoy this environment and bounce back out of it.”

Speaking on 3AW’s Sportsday on Tuesday night, Matthews said it was particularly a “bad look” for players to smile in the immediate aftermath of a loss.

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“If it’s old school, I don’t want our players looking happy when we’ve just lost,” Matthews told Sportsday.

“Yeah you shake hands with those around you, but I think it’s a different kettle of fish. If you’ve just lost, look like you’re suffering because you are.

“It might only be for half an hour or an hour (after the game), but on-field I don’t like the look of teams that have just been beaten. If they’re happy, mucking around and joking – that’s a bad look.”

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