Never mind that the champion defender will celebrate his 40th birthday next year, Dustin Fletcher will attempt to play on for a remarkable 23rd season in the AFL according to Essendon coach Mark Thompson.
After a week filled with speculation about his playing future after his omission for last Saturday night’s victory over Port Adelaide, 390-game veteran Fletcher was recalled to the Bombers’ lineup for Sunday’s game against Collingwood at the MCG.
Thompson suggested that Fletcher was picked on merit, and would have been picked even if gun defender Michael Hibberd had been declared to fit to play following on return from his ankle injury.
“We try to pick the best side for each game we play,” Thompson said on Friday morning.
Thompson flagged a belief that Fletcher will attempt to play on again in 2015, although did provide a caveat.
“I think he’s going to try. I think he’s pretty realistic, if the next seven weeks he doesn’t play and he feels like he doesn’t deserve a game and can’t contribute to the success of the team then he’ll make the right decision and I totally trust Dustin.
“I think players deserve if they’ve had a long career to decide that themselves. I’ve had experience with [Cameron] Ling who went early and Darren Milburn who wanted that extra game. It’s just horses for courses.
“There’s still a third of the season to go with Dustin so that’s a fair bit of time so he, like everybody else, has just got to keep playing well.”
Essendon has been weakened by the absence of locum captain Brendon Goddard after the midfielder was suspended for high contact to Port Adelaide’s Kane Cornes. The ban was assessed by many pundits this week as harsh. Thompson agreed, but indicated the Bombers were left with no choice but to accept a one-game penalty, given that Goddard could have been suspended for a further week had the club contested.
“It’s just the current rules, we had nowhere to really go, we asked QCs and strictly by the rules they were right. He shouldn’t have done it but at the same time you wouldn’t think from where we’re sitting as a supporter of footy - you wouldn’t think it was worth two weeks to do that.”
Goddard also missed the round six ANZAC Day clash against the Magpies, a match won by Collingwood despite Essendon having held a 37-point advantage during the second quarter.
Scott Pendlebury was excellent with 30 disposals in that tussle, but it was fellow Magpie midfield dynamo Dane Swan who stole the show with 26 disposals and four goals. Thompson outlined how challenging it was to determine which of the star onballers should be tagged by Essendon stopper Heath Hocking.
“Who do we go to? Swan or Pendlebury? You know that in the past that if we go to one the other one will bob up."
With Goddard suspended and captain Jobe Watson absent with his hip tendon injury, Thompson believed a chance had arisen for less heralded Bomber midfielders to stand up in what looms as a massive game between the two final-eight aspirants.
“It’s a good opportunity, Hepp (Dyson Heppell) has really stood up, David Myers stood up, Stanton’s consistently a good player so we’ve got enough players."