‘Fletch’ – A Tribute

Dustin Fletcher debuted for Essendon on the 3rd of April, Round 2 1993.

I was 4.

Dustin Fletcher retired on the 4th of September, the Friday night of Round 23 2015.

I am 26.

His career spanned 22 years, 400 games, 2 premierships, 1 club best and fairest, 2 All-Australian gigs, 164 team-mates, 4 coaches.

And, the entirety of my conscious footballing life.

I don’t remember much of being 4. I certainly don’t remember anything of the 1993 season. More important things to worry about I guess, like jumping in puddles and playing with Tonka Trucks. But Fletch was there.

He spent some time on Stephen Kernahan in the 1993 Grand Final which I watched on VHS countless times in future years. ‘Sticks’ kicked 7.4. Essendon won by 44 points. I think I know who was the happier that night. Fletch looked out of place that day, he was too gangly, too slight. He looked like he didn’t really belong on an AFL field. I can only imagine the chat in the outer: “Some potential there. He’s got the smarts. He just needs to fill out a bit in the next couple of years to compete.”

He never bothered with that idea.

However. Ablett, Lockett, Dunstall, Modra, Sumich, Lyon, Carey, Kernahan, Richardson, Rocca, Hall, Franklin, Lynch, Fevola. Just a few of the full-forwards who have quaked in their boots at Fletcher’s arrival at full-back. If you’ve spent time in the forward 50 in the last 22 years, you’ve probably played on Fletch. Small or tall, lead-up forward, ‘stay-at-home’ forward, crumbing forward, it didn’t matter. He definitely frustrated you with his defensive genius. And he definitely held you goal-less at least once.

Fletch is a club icon for many reasons.

The Red Hair, the Skinny Build, the “Inspector Gadget” arms, the seemingly impossible last-second spoil.

The look-away-mongrel-but-somehow-finding-the-boundary-line-60-metres-away roost out of the defensive 50 and the countless rushed behinds when the opposition thought they surely had a goal.

The ridiculous series of suspensions for a variety of ‘trips’ where his elongated body got the best of him, and the time he was fined for shaking the goal-post as the opposition was having a shot for goal.

The fact that in his ‘winter years’ he’s been a playing defensive coach.

The fact that in 2000, in the most successful season of AFL football ever (24-1), with Matthew Lloyd kicking 109 goals, Joe Misiti racking up 625 touches, Scott Lucas booting 57 goals, James Hird chiming in with 36 majors and averaging over 20 touches, and the likes of Jason Johnson and Justin Blumfield starring, Fletch won the Best & Fairest.

Finally, the forays forward.

I was the MCG on ANZAC Day this year in the top tier of the Great Southern Stand, four rows from the back. The classic ‘nosebleed seats’. It was a miserable day weather wise, and a miserable game for Essendon. It was memorable though. In the second quarter, Fletch marked the ball 60 metres out. 88,395 fans knew what was coming. Collingwood fans will deny it to their death-bed, but I have no doubt they wanted it too, wanted it to happen.

Fletch to his credit took his time. Drew in the crowd and built the anticipation. I’m sure he took more than 30 seconds. I’m sure the umpire didn’t care. He unleashed a monstrous drop punt. The result was never in doubt. The crowd erupted. His 71st and last goal in the red and black.

I sadly didn’t make it to Dreamtime at the G this year. It was Fletch’s 400th. The basic stats are mostly irrelevant – 10 touches, two marks. Digging deeper though, you could tell that it was a typical Fletch performance. There were four rebound-50s and five ‘one-percenters’. A casual night’s work for Dustin.

However, he went off injured, and hasn’t been back. Down back. For as long as I’ve been following footy, that’s where Fletch has been.

As much as the media reported that it wasn’t possible, I was hoping that Fletch would receive one final game against the Pies. Surely, even if he was only 25% fit he’d be picked as the sub and brought on in the last 10 minutes. Play him forward, clear out the 50, and have the Bombers do whatever they could to deliver him one last grab, one last goal.

But, really, that’s not the Fletch way. He’s never been one for fanfare, for being in the spotlight. He’s just done what he’s done, extraordinarily well, for over two decades. Perhaps it’s meant to be that he bows out following an extended period on the sidelines. He’s certainly spent a decent amount of time there over the course of his career.

Next season will be strange. For the first time in my memory, Fletch won’t be pulling on the red and black again.

Opposition forwards won’t know how good they have it.

About Sam Laffy

26-year old Essendon supporter. Winning the flag in 2000 when I was 12 was supposed to kick off a dynasty I could boast about for years. Still waiting for that 17th flag.....

Comments

  1. Thanks Sam . I’ve been along for the duration of the ride. No doubt, over 22 seasons, he has each season been our most reliable player. Doesn’t sound like much of an accolade but how good a team would you have if they were all as reliable and dependable as Fletch. Would love to see a highlights package just of his long range goals, kick outs and last minute spoils. Haven’t seen anyone else play the percentages better than him. Thanks for it all Dusty. You were a star!

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