Veteran Fletcher still Bombers' key - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Veteran Fletcher still Bombers' key

Guy Hand 13/04/2011 04:15:34 PM Comments (0)

The oldest player in the AFL is still among the best.

Essendon's Dustin Fletcher continues to shine at the highest level, and has been an integral part of the Bombers' surprise start to the season.

Turning 36 next month, his durability and quality at an age most have been pensioned off even has his coach James Hird in awe of what his former teammate is still doing.

"He's a star. Dustin Fletcher is an out-and-out star and he has been for 330 or whatever games," said Hird, just two years older.

"It would be hard to say he's not our most important player at 35.

"It's pretty hard to coach Dustin Fletcher. He knows what to do and as much as anything, he's telling us (the coaches) what's happening out on the field and trying to help us."

There is an element of full circle about where Fletcher's career sits now.

A premiership player as an 18-year-old in the famed Baby Bombers side of 1993, Fletcher is now the defensive rock of a youthful side soaring towards new AFL heights.

In his 19th AFL season, his career has outlasted every player in both his premiership sides - the last survivor of the 2000 flag-winners still playing at Essendon.

A reshaped back six and a greater emphasis on defence under Hird than under previous coach Matthew Knights has provided Fletcher an important role.

Fletcher, developing key defender Cale Hooker and first-year player Dyson Heppell all helped quell St Kilda's forward line in the Bombers' big win last weekend - most tellingly blunting the threat of Nick Riewoldt.

With youth like Heppell, ruckman Tom Bellchambers and reborn forward Stewart Crameri also firing, Hird now faces welcome selection headaches ahead of their clash with Carlton on Saturday.

No.1 ruckman David Hille is available after injury, and Hird says he would have no problem playing three ruckmen to accommodate Bellchambers alongside Hille and Patrick Ryder.

"We have to be careful with David. He's now had a slow pre-season and played just one or two games before he got that slight injury," Hird said.

"We'll just to look after David and make sure we've got a full season player, rather than just come back for two weeks and get injured."

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