The AFL Players’ Association catches up with one of the great blokes in footy – Adrian Fletcher.
Us: Four clubs, 231 games, that’s plenty of footy.
Fletch: Yeah, I had more clubs than Greg Norman. I got around a fair bit. As an 18-year-old I got drafted to Geelong and 30 years later I walked out after being an assistant coach when I finished playing. It’s a long life in footy but I still look back and sort of think where’d all that time go – it was a great ride but it still seemed to go pretty quick.
Us: Geelong in 1989 must have been a pretty exciting club to walk into?
Fletch: They had some reasonable players at the time. Gary Ablett, Paul Couch, Mark Bairstow, Andrew Bews – they were just ready to go that footy club and played in all those grand finals.
Us: You spent three years there with Malcolm Blight as your coach. How was that?
Fletch: Blighty was great. He just loved playing attacking footy and wanted to win by kicking more goals than the opposition and taking them on. He was always coming up with something new every four weeks and kept us on our toes.
Us: After Geelong you shifted over to St Kilda. How did that move come about?
Fletch: Well Couchy was the centreman at the Cats and a bloody good one so I wasn’t getting a start there. Blighty was happy to give me a heads up and find me the opportunity to play more regularly somewhere else. We made the finals at St Kilda the year I was there. We beat Collingwood at Waverley Park and that was a real highlight.
Us: It must have been an exciting year?
Fletch: It was brilliant. The Saints were up and going with Tony Lockett, Stewart Loewe, Robert Harvey, Daniel Frawley, so many great players. It was a fair outfit.
Us: So how come you were gone after such a great season?
Fletch: It was funny. I was signed up for the next year but I think they were trying to find some money to get Greg Williams in. They were trying to offload three or four of us to make some room for the March draft. I was going to go back to Tassie and play footy down there but I ended up playing a practice match for the Bears and played five seasons there.
Us: Was your time at Brisbane the best football you played?
Fletch: It was probably when I started to find my identity as a player in the AFL. It’s hard winning people over as a young player but Robert Walls showed faith in my and he backed me in. That faith was really important for me.
Us: You were at the Bears when they became the Lions, too. Was that merger a difficult transition for the players already at Brisbane?
Fletch: We played off in a preliminary final in 1996 and then the merger happened and people thought it would just happen. The Lions would be premiers and impossible to stop. The culture was hard to mould together as quick as they thought though. It doesn’t just happen overnight. We didn’t have as good a year as we should but the success did come.
Us: Did you forecast Brisbane being the dominant team they would become with three flags between 2001-03? Were the signs there?
Fletch: They had the exciting young players around the joint. Lappin, Leppa, Vossy, Akermanis, Bradshaw, Lynchy came to the club – the nucleus was there and you knew they weren’t far away. Unfortunately it didn’t happen quick enough for my liking.
Us: You weren’t done after the Lions. Over to Fremantle for four seasons, including time as captain and a best and fairest.
Fletch: It was a tough move. To go across to Western Australia to a club trying to find themselves wasn’t easy. The people in charge at the Dockers were really passionate and worked really hard but maybe didn’t have their head around how hard AFL footy was. Once they got their head around that they have gone from strength to strength.
Us: Your time at Freo included one very memorable moment…
Fletch: Kicking to the umpire. That’s right. I’ve become the answer to the best trivia question in footy I reckon. Peter Carey was the umpire and he’s made plenty of money out of that. I haven’t made a thing. I remember when it happened and Brad Wira was dirty because he hadn’t had a kick and the umpire even beat him to the footy.
Us: What was your relationship like with the umpires over your career? Did you have much to say to them?
Fletch: I was always fair and reasonable I thought.
Us: Did you chat to opposition players to put them off?
Fletch: I wasn’t anything like Tony Shaw. I didn’t have all the sayings like he did. I was very competitive but always fair I think. You gain respect by getting a kick and that’s what I prided myself on.
Us: And you always got plenty of kicks – you averaged 23 touches a game during a time when numbers meant a bit more.
Fletch: I guess that was my strength. I could read the game pretty well and use my body to win the footy. I wasn’t blessed with great speed so I had to be pretty smart and I learnt that at a fairly young age.
Us: Sounds a bit like Sam Mitchell – is he someone who reminds you of the way you played the game?
Fletch: It’d be nice to be as good a player as Sam. He relies on his agility rather than his speed. He’s a champion player and he’s so good in traffic and around the stoppages.
Us: Who was your toughest opponent?
Fletch: I played on Adam Simpson a lot. Tony Shaw was very competitive and had a fair few tricks – when the umpire would bounce the ball he would elbow you right in the sternum. I was only a kid so I wasn’t ready for that. I always enjoyed those battles. Craig Bradley was another one I played on a couple of times.
Us: Are you involved in any footy at the moment?
Fletch: I am the high performance coach of the Queensland Under-18 team. I have done that for the last two years.
Us: And you’ve got another venture on the side – cycling gear.
Fletch: Yeah, it’s great, my wife Narelle and I have always been involved in elite sport so teaming with SH+ to bring high-performance cycling equipment to Australia is a really good fit. Cycling is booming in Australia and it’s a great sport. I have been on the bike a fair bit since my knees gave me some trouble after footy. You have to keep moving so you can’t have a block of chocolate and this equipment makes it great to get on the bike.
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