The Fletcher era comes to a close this coming Sunday, when the son of a gun has hopefully his full farewell from the fans at the MCG.
From what I have observed since the announcement this morning, he has universal respect from the football world - for his consistency, longevity, relaxed nature and his ability to kick the ball.
For our younger members, let's put Fletcher's career into context.
At the time he was recruited, the father/son rule was simple. No bidding for a start. As long as your father played 50 games at the club, you were able to be recruited under the rule. Father Ken had played 264 games.
What is even more remarkable is that Fletcher hadn't finished year 12 at Essendon Grammar, where Ken was the football coach. There wouldn't be too many footballers today who would give up a game at the highest level to play for their school on the same day. Fletch did in 1993. Both the school and the club won their respective matches.
I remember his first Essendon match well. Matches against our great rivals in Carlton are always interesting, and so it was in Round 2 1993. Whilst many will remember the match for the fact Stephen Kernahan missed the lot causing a draw at the end, it is also remembered for being Fletch's debut. Sheeds at the time was one to throw kids in to see if they could swim or sink. Imagine being a 17yo and being thrown into the ruck against that giant old dinosaur in Justin Madden! Could a kid today cope with playing galloping hat-rack Aaron Sandilands today? One wonders!
Fletch would go on in being the baby in the Baby Bombers Mark II. No-one was younger than him on the ground that Grand Final Day. Whilst Kernahan played a lone hand for the Blues that day, Fletch was far from overawed and played fairly well.
People remember Fletch as a fine full-back and fine defender, but, how many of us know about Sheeds wanting him to play as a forward? It did happen now and then. In the famous match of Anzac Day 1995, Fletch spent nearly half the game at centre-half forward and was quite effective. And no...he didn't need to kick 75m torpedo punts!
Skip forward to that magnificent year in 2000. As Essendon swept all before it, Fletch, who would turn 25 that year, had the greatest season of the entire team. To win the best and fairest in a year where the team only lost once, is the stuff every kid's dream would nearly be made of.
The only negative you could ever have about Fletch was his rather lengthy record at the Tribunal. It was a frustration to all of us, but, was the subject of some mirth, when the nickname Inspector Gadget came about! I'm sure the creator of Inspector Gadget, Don Adams (Agent Smart), would find the nickname rather appropriate!
As the years have gone one, and the games have tallied up, Fletch has been a model of consistency. Let's look at the International Rules for a minute. The Australian team and the Irish team have never seen a goalkeeper like Fletch..and perhaps never will again.
The records in the latter part of his career came and were well deserved. Club games record holder. Third player in the history of the VFL/AFL to play 400 games. 2nd most games at the MCG ever. Guaranteed to be inducted into the AFL Hall Of Fame when eligible.
We are all proud to have seen Fletch in his long career. We see his 2 sons making a name for themselves at Aberfeldie and in the James Hird Academy. A 3rd generation of Fletchers looks likely.
Thank you Dustin Fletcher. The club and the game will be poorer without you.