AFLPlayers caught up with evergreen Essendon defender Dustin Fletcher the morning after his record-breaking 379th game to discuss playing, coaching and life after footy.
AFLPlayers: Firstly, congratulations on the milestone. It’s an amazing achievement and last night was a great way to start the year.
Dustin Fletcher: It was. There was a big crowd, and first game of the year everyone was a little bit nervous. We obviously had a few milestones with Jake Carlisle, Paddy Ryder – and myself, obviously. For us to win the first game and play the way we want to play was great.
AFLPlayers: You tend to stay out of the spotlight. Are you glad to have the milestone out of the way?
Fletcher: To be honest, I probably am. I reckon you lose a little bit of the old nervous energy when the spotlight’s on you, so I think I’ll be better for the run, to be honest, and am looking forward to next week already.
AFLPlayers: The only thing last night was missing was you kicking a massive bomb. Did you think about sneaking forward in the last few minutes when the game was all sealed up?
Fletcher: I did, but the way footy’s played now, you’ve pretty much got to do your role. I sort of let a torpedo go in… I think the first quarter, that nearly got there but just wasn’t long enough.
— AFL Players (@AFLPlayers) March 21, 2014
AFLPlayers: You spoke this week about the importance of keeping mentally fresh throughout your career. What allows you to do that?
Fletcher: Obviously the family keeps me pretty busy, but I just think you’ve got to pick your times. When you walk into the club you’ve got to be switched on and need to make sure your mind’s going, but as soon as I walk out I try to sort of switch off and think about other things and enjoy different things. I think that’s sort of helped me get the journey.
AFLPlayers: The AFL Players’ Association has changed a lot since your career began, but there’s a strong focus on making sure players are prepared for the next phase of their life when their footy careers end. Hopefully you’ve got another couple of years left in the game, but have you thought about what will happen when you hang up the boots?
Fletcher: Yeah, certainly. I’ve done a lot of the coaching courses and the Next Coach program with Dave Wheadon was fantastic. I do a day a week here [at Essendon] – usually on the day off I come in and do a bit of stuff that’s going to help me for later on, so I do think about that but at the moment my focus is still on footy and trying to get the boys over the line, and so far so good.
AFLPlayers: What do you do at the club during that day off?
Fletcher: At the moment, I’m on the computers doing the sports-code, which is sort of editing different things that happen on the ground. I can go through that with a few of the players. For the next couple of months that’s the area I’ll be enjoying, because it’s a part of coaching and a part of helping the kids.
AFLPlayers: You mentioned through the week that you might like to step away from footy for a bit when you retire, but it sounds like you’re certainly setting yourself up for a coaching career too.
“I can’t see myself being a senior coach, but I think the development role is something I enjoy” – Fletcher
Fletcher: To be honest, I can’t see myself being a senior coach, but I think the development role is something I enjoy. The young kids, the way they come up these days is pretty professional and the earlier you can get them on the track and playing games, it’s definitely a help to the footy club. I’d like to be involved in Essendon in some way down the track and we’ll just have to see what happens at the end of the year or whenever it might be.
AFLPlayers: Good luck for the year ahead – have you got anything you’re going to try to do differently this season or are you going to approach your footy the same way?
Fletcher: I approach it the same way, but I think if I can get 16 or so games, or somewhere around there, at the best level I can play… Basically [my focus is on] just playing my role now. Footy’s changed a bit – you’ve just got to do your role and as you saw last night if blokes do that you know you’re in games and you can hold them to a pretty low score. [The Kangaroos only scoring] 60 points was great.
AFLPlayers: Sixteen games this year would leave you just short of 400. Any chance you go around again next year?
Fletcher: We’ll see what happens but it’s a fair way away yet. We’ll see how we go.
To read AFLPlayers’ full-length feature on Fletcher’s record-breaking game, featuring Matthew Lloyd and Simon Madden, click here.
To learn more about the Next Coach program, click here.