Dustin Fletcher is to play his 350th AFL game this weekend against Gold Coast.
Fletcher is a star of the game who is highly regarded and greatly respected. His longevity and desire to play the game at such a high level at the age of 37 is testamount to the champion who began his AFL career in 1993.
From the beginning of his career as a 17 year old, Fletcher was thrown in the deep end, taking on the some of the greatest forwards to have ever played Australian Rules Football. Kernahan, Ablett, Dunstall, Lockett, Modra, Lynch, Sumich just to name a few. What a wealth of forward talent that era was.
I was on a footy trip in Adelaide late in 1992 where Dustin Fletcher’s father, former Essendon Captain Ken Fletcher was the guest speaker at an Essendon Football Club luncheon. Ken Fletcher mentioned how Essendon were almost certain to recruit his son Dustin for the next season. Ken had no doubt that his son would have a successful football career. I’m sure no one would have dreamt that Dustin would still be playing 20 years later but the club certainly knew that they had a star in the making. I recall Ken Fletcher saying that his son’s name was ‘Dustin’ and he hated being called ‘Justin’ which my travelling partners Pear, Legend, Squatter and I all found most amusing at the time.
I remember Fletcher’s first match for Essendon, the famous ‘One more Kerna’ game where Carlton’s Stephen Kernahan missed a goal after the siren from the boundary at the MCG. Fletcher as a lanky young kid (he is still a lanky old kid) played much of that game in the ruck. He was then moved on to Kernahan to stop the star forward. The debut was a fantastic game for the young Fletcher.
Some weeks later, Fletcher was selected to play on Stephen Kernahan at full back in the Grand Final of 1993 against Cartlon. Kernahan was in fantastic form and while he kicked 7 goals for the day, Fletcher was far from disgraced and Essendon won the Grand Final.
Fletcher’s nickname of ‘Inspector Gadget’ is a perfect fit as he tends to come from nowhere to punch the ball, tap to his team mates advantage or get a toe poke from no where to clear the ball from defence. The only blemish in Fletcher’s record is the number of times he has been reported but these reports were rarely from malice or unsportsman like footy, most of his suspensions have been from crude tackles or ‘accidental’ trips where he has extended his Inspector Gadget foot or hand in his job as defender for the Essendon Football Club.
I can’t ever remember Fletch playing a bad game.
You rarely see Fletcher interviewed on TV. He has until recently shied away from the leadership group of the footy club. He comes across as a shy and quiet unassuming player who just goes about his business for his football team but he holds the respect and affection of his team mates and supporters of both Essendon and opposition teams.
Dustin Fletcher would also have made a great forward player. He is a strong mark, accurate kick and incredibly smart footballer.I would love to see Fletcher continue to boot his famous torpedo punts from defence or run down the ground to nail a long goal, control the backline and be Essendon’s rock in defence for another 50 games. Only two other players, Michael Tuck and Kevin Bartlett have played 400 games. Fletcher would be a most suitable player to join the 400 club.
A two time premiership player and Crichton Medallist for the Best and Fairest Player in Essendon’s 2000 premiership year heads his distinguished and brilliant career. He was also a great full back/goal keeper in the International Rules form of our game against the Irish Teams.
Congratulations on 350 outstanding games Fletch – number 31.