Thin on ground, but Dustin Fletcher full of guts
KEN and Rosemary Fletcher had reason to fear for their son's safety while he contested his first season of AFL footy.
If playing at the top level for a kid still shy of both celebrating his 18th birthday and having 80kg on his 198cm frame wasn't enough, Dustin Fletcher was being pitted against the game's biggest and best forwards.
Fletcher was 17 years, 331 days when he debuted for Essendon in round two 1993 - a year when Paul Keating was re-elected as Australian Prime Minister, Shane Warne began leaving the Poms in a spin, IOC chief Juan Antonio Samaranch was trying to pronounce "Syd-e-ney" and most would have thought the internet was something used to catch fish.
After initially being pitted against 206cm Carlton ruckman Justin Madden in that first game - a stunning 132-all draw - Fletcher would be sent to the defence by senior coach Kevin Sheedy to help combat superstars such as Gary Ablett Snr, Jason Dunstall and Tony Lockett.
In some cases it was like a stick insect taking on a bulldozer. Plugger, for instance, may have been 7cm shorter than the young Bomber, but weighed almost 40kg heavier.
Ken, who played 264 games for the Bombers, recalled in a 2012 interview that "Rosemary and I used to sit in the grandstand, wondering if he'd get broken in two".
But, not only did he stay in one piece thanks to his rubbery physique, with the speed of a gazelle, and his 'go-go-Gadget' arms perfect for spoiling, Fletcher quickly displayed the (very skinny) shape of things to come.
North Melbourne pair Wayne Carey and John Longmire, Carlton captain Steve Kernahan and Melbourne livewire Allen Jakovich got a hold of him, but, in his fifth game, he managed to restrict the hottest spearhead of all that season - Adelaide's Tony Modra - to three kicks while gaining his first Brownlow vote.
With his appearance, play and demeanour barely changing in the 22 years since, Fletcher has gone on to play 399 games for the Bombers, and will join Michael Tuck (426) and Kevin Bartlett (403) in the 400-game club tomorrow night at the MCG against Richmond.
Fletcher was among an elite group of future champions that garnered Rising Star nominations in 1993 - Shane Crawford, Joe Misiti, Scott West, David Neitz, Nathan Buckley, James Hird, Matthew Richardson, Glenn Archer, Mark Ricciuto, and Sav Rocca among others. Fletcher became the last man standing as far back as 2009 when 'Richo' retired.
It was the opinion of long-time Essendon club doctor Bruce Reid that "physically, he's well put together. He's lanky and wiry, just like Tuck and Bartlett. He's not hyper-mobile, which means he doesn't dislocate fingers or rupture ligaments."
Fletcher's career will have spanned 22 years and 58 days tomorrow night - the average career lasts four years.
Fourteen players on the Essendon list weren't even born when he debuted.
He's played alongside 166 teammates, including Anthony Daniher in 1993 and his son Joe Daniher in 2015.
It's often joked Fletcher will be playing at Essendon with his own son, Max.
All jokes aside, it could only be six years away, and it wouldn't surprise to see him still running around in the red and black then.
Even at 40, there's just no sign of him ever 'breaking'.