After 23 years, 400 AFL games, two premierships, five International Rules campaigns and countless accolades, Dustin Fletcher has finally reached the finish line.
A groin injury sustained midway through his milestone 400th match cruelled his final AFL season as his beloved Essendon endured a horror year, finishing with the sacking of coach James Hird after the team finished fourth last.
The injury denied Fletcher the farewell teammates and fans felt the two-time All Australian deserved.
Instead, the lanky defender will get a chance at a memorable send-off in front of 80,000 fans at Croke Park when he turns out for his final game of competitive football in the one-off International Rules Test with Ireland on Saturday (Sunday 0600 AEDT).
Essendon’s Brendon Goddard, a teammate at club and country, hopes it will be a worthy exit for the decorated Fletcher, who will reprise his role as goalkeeper in an eighth appearance for Australia.
“It was actually a little bit disappointing (how Fletcher’s AFL career ended) – he didn’t get to play until the latter part of the season,” Goddard said in Dublin on Thursday.
“His send off during our best and fairest and our major awards nights was pretty special.
“It’s definitely a privilege to play with someone who has been so durable and given so much to our game.
“In terms of (on-field) send offs it was kind of underwhelming for a guy that’s given so much.”
Fletcher, who turned 40 in May, admits it has finally dawned on him that this is the end.
He has long held the International Series close to his heart and says he’s honoured to have the rare distinction of bowing out while playing for Australia.
“There’s no doubt it’s special being able to finish playing for Australia. Not too many people do that,” he said.
“I think it will be (emotional).”