Essendon defender Dustin Fletcher will make history on Saturday night, when he becomes just the second man to play VFL/AFL football over the age of 40.
Fletcher celebrates his 40th birthday on Thursday, and joins Vic Cumberland – a ruckman in Melbourne’s premiership team of 1900 – as the only men to play into their fifth decade.
Fletcher’s longevity is testament to balance.
In this age of ultra-professionalism, he says being able to tune out football when he’s not around the club helps maintain his hunger.
“Football’s a demanding sport and a tough sport,” he told The Age last year.
“There are times when I try and mentally switch off because I don’t know if you can keep that up for the whole year.
“The game to me is the real part of it, and that’s what I’ve enjoyed. I’m still enjoying it now.”
It’s a good thing he enjoys the games, given he’s played 397 of them stemming back to his 1993 debut.
He’s played on all the great forwards of yesteryear, including Lockett, Dunstall, Ablett, Kernahan and Modra.
The only modern rivals to his longevity are Michael Tuck and Craig Bradley, both of whom were 38 when they called time on astonishing careers.
The year he debuted, Jurassic Park was the top-grossing movie at the box office, but Fletcher is no dinosaur – he’s adapted with the times: integral in the modern work force.
No longer the Bombers’ premier backman, he’s become vital in their rebound game, consistently bobbing up with a saving mark or diving spoil.
Football is second-nature to him – and there’s no substitute for experience.
His goal from inside the centre square on Anzac Day (with a drop punt mind) was pure class.
Footy stars who shine after their 40th birthday are scarce, but even in more sedate games it is still highly unusual.
Surfer Kelly Slater, basketballer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, golfer Jack Nicklaus plus boxers George Foreman and Bernard Hopkins are some of the more notable examples.
But Fletcher’s achievement is a truly incredible one – Slater never had to fight off Plugger Lockett for a wave, and Nicklaus never had his teeth knocked out lining up a putt.
In a sporting landscape that is always looking for the hottest young prospect, the reassuring presence of Fletch patrolling the Bombers back 50 is a reassuring sight.
Let’s hope he keeps going for as long as he can.
Oldest VFL/AFL players
43 years, 50 days, Vic Cumberland (St Kilda) 1920
40 years, 2 days*, Dustin Fletcher (Essendon) 2015
39 years, 296 days, Jack Leith (Melbourne) 1912
39 years, 239 days, Syd Barker senior (North Melbourne) 1927
39 years, 181 days, Jim Flynn (Carlton) 1910
* Fletcher’s age when Essendon play Fremantle on Saturday
Most VFL/AFL games played
426, Michael Tuck (Hawthorn) 1972-91
403, Kevin Bartlett (Richmond) 1965-83
397, Dustin Fletcher (Essendon) 1993-present
389, Brent Harvey (North Melbourne) 1996-present
383, Robert Harvey (St Kilda) 1988-2008
Dustin Fletcher’s playing honours
* Two-time Essendon premiership player (1993, 2000)
* Two-time All-Australian (2000, 2007)
* Won Bombers’ best and fairest award in 2000
* Second in best and fairest in 2007 and 2009
* Third in best and fairest in 2006
* Represented Australia in International Rules series in 2005, 2006, 2010, 2014
* Club games record holder