Dustin Fletcher during training. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
DUSTIN Fletcher is as unique a player as our game has seen.
What other player has not lost their speed or reflexes over a 20-year period. And he turns 37 in less than a month.
Fletcher hates any form of adulation and is as humble as they come, but in my chat with him in the build-up to his 350th game, Fletch had no reply to my question: ''Have you lost any of your skills since you were in your 20s?''
By not being able to give me an answer, Fletch did give a clear sign that he is still on top of his game and is as confident in his ability and body as he's ever been. Only a serious injury will stop him from going around again next year.
I have always said that James Hird was the best I have played with but Fletcher was the most important. The reason for that was whenever he didn't play, Essendon always seemed to lose. He also forced his fellow defenders to play at a higher level because he continually covered for them and allowed them to play in a far more attacking manner.
His ball use in general play and from kick-ins is better than any other tall defender to have played the game. I hated playing on him in intraclub matches. Even though he went at half-rat power in those games, I found myself chasing kicks up the field because he gave me no space inside 50 with his speed off the mark and his spoiling ability.
He's smart at not getting caught up in a wrestle as he knows that is not his strength. Fletch is the master at playing off his man and using his long limbs to get a spoil in. That ability has seen forwards lose their nerve and confidence when playing on Fletch.
What is also unique about Fletch is that he doesn't train any harder than the next player; he just does enough to know that he'll be right for game day. That mindset wouldn't have worked for most players but it does for Fletch; he's just a freak who knows his game and body inside out.
Fletch has never let the game get the better of him - he doesn't take himself or the game too seriously. If you let the game consume you, you can lose the love of it and that is something he has never let happen. That is his nature and his one-liners in team meetings to lighten the mood of a bad loss are legendary. He is one of those guys who is funny when he isn't even trying to be.
As good as he has been, I don't think he has been rated as highly outside the Essendon Football Club as he should have. That can happen when your team hasn't had the success that other clubs and players have. That wouldn't worry Fletch though, he just loves to play and everything outside of that is irrelevant. Four hundred games isn't beyond him but I think we all should just enjoy what is left of what has been one of the most remarkable careers in VFL/AFL history.