THE END of this season is likely to determine whether Dustin Fletcher plays on for a 23rd year of AFL football, according to Essendon coach Mark Thompson.
Having been omitted last week, Fletcher is back in the Bombers' squad to take on Collingwood on Sunday, in what will be his 391st game for the club if selected in the final team.
Thompson expects the 39-year-old to want to play on into 2015, and said Fletcher is keen to show his value in the final chunk of this season.
"I think he's going to try [to play next year]," Thompson said on Friday.
"I think he's pretty realistic, if the next seven weeks he doesn't play and he feels like he can't deserve a game and contribute to the success of the team, then he'll make the right decision. And I totally trust Dustin."
Thompson said Fletcher wasn't solely left out of the side for form reasons, and that it should be left to veterans to make a call on their future.
"I think it's personal choice. Some people aren't ready to give up and want to play every game they can, and some people just like to time it well," he said.
"I think players deserve, if they've had a long career, to decide that themselves. I really do. I've experienced it with [Cameron] Ling (at Geelong), who went early, and Darren Milburn who wanted that extra game. It's just horses for courses."
The Magpies present a big challenge for the Bombers, who will be without three of their best players in Jobe Watson (hip), Michael Hibberd (ankle) and Brendon Goddard (suspended). Having missed last week as well, Hibberd was a "line-ball" call for the Collingwood meeting.
"We could have been two players better off, we could have had Goddard and 'Hibbo' and been really, really confident, but at the same time they're not there so we have to find a way," Thompson said.
"We're confident we can still find a way, it just makes it easier for the coach and for people around the team to have your best players playing."
With its stand-in captain Goddard missing, Thompson said the role could fall to young star Dyson Heppell, who looks a long-term candidate as a permanent skipper.
"He's not far away, and he's certainly going to be a captain, he's a really classy young man," Thompson.