Fletcher lauded for 400 AFL milestone

Ah, them were the days – Saturday suburban footy, watch the reserves for a half before preparing for your game, only two or three training sessions each week.

In many ways, the AFL is unrecognisable from when Dustin Fletcher made his debut for Essendon in 1993 as a spindly 17-year-old schoolkid.

On Saturday night, he will become just the third AFL player to reach 400 games.

But hang on … only two or three days of training?

“It’s interesting he said we only trained three nights a week back in 1993, because I remembered the rest of us trained five or six nights a week,” said Bombers coach James Hird as he stood next to Fletcher after Friday training.

“But Fletch obviously had a different program.

“He was only young – he was at school most of the time.”

It’s been a running joke through Fletcher’s amazing football career that he has not been the most hard-core trainer, particularly in the weights room.

Hird, who was a teammate with Fletcher in Essendon’s 1993 premiership, said that reputation was deceptive.

“People say `how do you train Dustin Fletcher?’ He trains himself to a certain extent,” Hird said.

“But Dustin doesn’t miss a session.

“Through pre-season, he was there every day.

“He’s very professional about the way he trains himself.”

Apart from Fletcher’s amazing form consistency, his experience and advice have also been crucial for the Bombers.

“He’s taught me more about defence or how to play in defence than I’ve taught him,” Hird said.

“He’s taught a lot of his teammates.

“We talked to Cale Hooker about what he’s learned from Fletch and his response was `everything’.

“Michael Hibberd was the same, Michael Hurley – they’ve learned how to play by watching, talking to Fletch.

“Not only he’s been a great player, but he’s been a great tutor for our football club.”

For his part, even the laconic Fletcher had to admit the milestone is big.

The 40-year-old met this week with Hawthorn great Michael Tuck (426 games) and Richmond’s legendary Kevin Bartlett (403).

Later this season, North Melbourne speedster Brent Harvey (391) will join them in that exclusive club.

“They were great – I suppose the 400 club only being two people, they were pretty excited to have another one in it,” Fletcher said of Tuck and Bartlett.

“You have to learn to like it.

“It’s not usually my go to be doing much of the media stuff.

“But it’s a big occasion for the club and for friends and family and obviously for supporters.

“It’s hit home probably more in the last three or four days than you realise, because you get a lot of messages.

“Yeah, it’s a big deal.”

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