Fletch gets Australian farewell

Retiring Bomber Dustin Fletcher will get a final farewell after proving his fitness to man the goal in Australia’s International Rules Test match against Ireland at Croke Park next month.

Fletcher didn’t take to the AFL field since round nine due to an abdominal injury but will get a swansong match after he convinced Australia coach and Hawks mentor Alastair Clarkson he was up to a fifth international rules campaign as goalkeeper.

The 40-year-old played 400 AFL games in 23 years with Essendon before retiring at the end of the 2015 season.

“He’s getting a bit long in the tooth but he’s still the best goalkeeper we’ve got, in our view, in our game with those long Inspector Gadget arms,” Clarkson said.

“Fletch hasn’t played for such a long time but we’ve met with him two or three times in the last month and monitored his fitness levels and he’s been doing some work on his goalkeeping.”

Champions Hawthorn will supply five players in the 22-man squad, including their skipper Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell, Luke Bruest, Grant Birchall and Jarryd Roughead, who will spearhead the team to defend the Cormac Macanallen trophy in Dublin on Nov 21.

The squad is packed with experience in the hybrid game with only four debutants in Andrew Gaff, Dyson Heppell, Jarryd Roughead and Jake Stringer.

Australia won the silverware with victory over the Irish in a one-off Test in Perth.

The Australians will meet up in New York in early November for a training camp and practice match but coming from all parts of the world where they are enjoying the AFL off-season, Clarkson admitted they would be up against it.

“It’s going to be a lot tougher on their home turf … but our boys are really keen to acquit themselves well,” Clarkson said.

“I’m sure they will be smarting after lowering their colours to us last year.”

Stringer, 21, is the youngest member of the team, and said he wasn’t sure how he would master the round ball.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen it, so it’ll be interesting,” the Western Bulldog said.

“I played basketball as a junior, so hopefully I’m not too bad.

“I’m really looking forward to spending time with the greats of the game.”

AUSTRALIA: Eddie Betts (Adelaide), Grant Birchall (Hawthorn), Luke Breust (Hawthorn), Patrick Dangerfield (Geelong), Dustin Fletcher (Essendon), Andrew Gaff (West Coast), Brendon Goddard (Essendon), Robbie Gray (Port Adelaide), Dyson Heppell (Essendon), Luke Hodge (Hawthorn), Sam Mitchell (Hawthorn), Leigh Montagna (St Kilda), David Mundy (Fremantle), Robert Murphy (Western Bulldogs), Nick Riewoldt (St Kilda), Tom Rockliff (Brisbane), Jarryd Roughead (Hawthorn), Nick Smith (Sydney), Jake Stringer (Western Bulldogs), Harry Taylor (Geelong), Chad Wingard (Port Adelaide), Easton Wood (Western Bulldogs).

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