Hawthorn legend Michael Tuck says Dustin Fletcher’s upcoming 400-game milestone is a testament to the veteran Bomber’s love of Australia’s indigenous football code.
Tuck, the current VFL-AFL games record holder with 426, played until he was 38 and says a burning passion for playing football is at the heart of any long career.
“If you didn’t really love it you wouldn’t do it,” Tuck told AAP.
“When you really analyse it, with all the cold nights at training and the hard pre-seasons, Dustin’s been going for 23 years, so he’s done a very good job to stay focused and keep playing.
“He’s had a fair bit of success and won a couple of flags, so that makes it a bit easier to keep going.
“But basically it’s just about enjoying the game and enjoying being part of a team.
“The younger blokes at the club help keep you feeling a bit younger than you are too.”
Tuck knows a thing or two about success, having been a part of seven premiership teams – four as captain of the Hawks – over his 20-year career, all while working as a plumber in the days before the professional era.
“Nowadays it’s a bit more demanding with team meetings and you’ve got to be down the club a lot more,” Tuck says.
“We had to work as well, so it’s a little bit different.
“It’s very demanding and Dustin has missed a few games with injury too, which is hard to cope with.
“When you do all the rehab and have to get yourself up for the next season it is hard, but he still managed to keep going.”
With Fletcher showing no signs of slowing down, despite turning 40 earlier this month, he could even decide to play on next year and challenge Tuck’s record, which has long been considered all but unassailable.
But Tuck always thought the mark could be bettered.
“Records are always being set and there’s always somebody to come along and break them,” he said.
“It’s what they’re for basically.”
Tuck joined Richmond champion Kevin Bartlett in the 400 club against North Melbourne in round 18 of the 1990 season.
It’s been an ultra-exclusive club of two for over 25 years, but that membership is set to double with Fletcher likely to be followed by North Melbourne’s Brent Harvey, who is currently on 392 games.
“We might have enough members to need a president and a secretary soon,” joked Tuck.
“Maybe I’ll be the treasurer.”
Tuck says the game is less brutal than when he played – a development he’s pleased with – but it demands more much from players in an athletic sense.
MOST AFL GAMES PLAYED
Michael Tuck (Haw) 426 from 1972-91
Kevin Bartlett (Rich) 403 from 1965-83
Dustin Fletcher (Ess) 399* from 1993-present
Brent Harvey (NM) 392* from 1996-present
* still playing