DUSTIN Fletcher is due to become Essendon's games record-holder on Friday when he plays his 379th game for the club. The 38-year-old will break the mark set by champion Bombers ruckman Simon Madden, who retired on 378 games in 1992.
It will see Fletcher move into fourth overall for games played in the AFL/VFL, with only Michael Tuck (426), Kevin Bartlett (403) and Robert Harvey (383) ahead of him. Fletcher won't do much different in his special milestone game than he has done in any other.

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Consistency has been central to his durability: pick a favourite 'Fletch' memory and it could come from any of the past 21 seasons. Here are some key moments that help tell Fletcher's story, along with the corresponding reflections from key figures throughout his career. 

GAME ONE: The debut, round two, 1993 
Fletcher, then a year 12 student at Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School in Melbourne, made his debut against Carlton at the MCG. He started in the ruck and finished with six disposals and five hit-outs (including the first of the game). He was pitted against Carlton ruckman Justin Madden, a premiership player for the Blues. The game is best remembered for Carlton spearhead Stephen Kernahan's shot at goal after the siren, which sailed out of bounds on the full and left it as a draw. 

"I didn't think he was ready when he got in because I thought he was too skinny. I always thought he had a lot of ability, but I didn't naturally assume he would be a walk-up start. I was sort of hoping they'd wait until he was ready. But apparently he was." – Ken Fletcher

GAME 17: The flag, Grand Final, 1993 
Fletcher's first season was full of tough asks after moving from the ruck to full-back. The Bombers didn't have a wealth of key defensive players – Mark Harvey was a short centre-half back – and they also wanted to keep Dean Wallis free. Fletcher took the main men. That included Adelaide's Tony Modra and Geelong's Gary Ablett. In the Grand Final, Fletcher took on Stephen Kernahan. The Carlton skipper kicked seven goals, but Fletcher won a premiership in his first AFL season. 

"We had to make some bold decisions that year and one was going to be Fletcher. He never let us down. If we didn't have him in that side, I don't think we would have won a premiership. That's how important he was. Not that he was a great player at the time, but he gave us an opportunity to balance the team." – Kevin Sheedy

Fletcher holds the 1993 premiership cup with teammate Tim Watson. Picture: AFL Media

GAME 151: The second flag, Grand Final, 2000
It is often said the most prestigious award in football is winning the best and fairest in a premiership season. Fletcher achieved that in 2000, in the best-ever season by a VFL/AFL team. Essendon lost only one game for the year and Fletcher was central to the Bombers' success. In the Grand Final he played on Melbourne captain David Neitz, who kicked two goals. The full-back trumped star teammates such as James Hird and Matthew Lloyd to be named club champion.

"I was so happy for him. To win it in a year like that was a real feather in his cap. When I see some of his highlights from that season, his attack on the ball and taking it at full speed was fantastic." – Ken Fletcher 

GAME 217: The missing teeth, round 16, 2004
It took bravery to play on opponents who were bigger, stronger and heavier than Fletcher, and he has often done it without any concerns for his safety. Against West Coast at Subiaco Oval in Perth, Fletcher's two front teeth were knocked out in a marking collision. Trainers had to search for his teeth on the ground after he left the field with a bloodied face and he missed the next week.

"His courage was an underrated quality. He was never a loud moaner at Essendon. He was just the perfect player to coach. His best coaches were Mark Harvey and Dean Wallis in the back half, they were very good for his contesting in the air." – Kevin Sheedy

Fletcher has his mouth checked out by team doctors at Subiaco in 2004. Picture: AFL Media

GAME 332: The tackle, round 4, 2011
The wiry Fletcher has always been as fleet of mind as foot. It was evident against the Blues in this famous encounter, when Fletcher chased down Carlton speedster Jeff Garlett with a match-saving tackle. Fletcher's ability to match-up on small forwards has been part of his art. It started with West Coast's Phil Matera almost a decade ago, and in between he has beaten St Kilda star Stephen Milne and earlier last year outplayed Carlton goalsneak Eddie Betts. 

"It gives you a great insight into the man. If you can play on a small player and then roll out the next week and play on a key forward, that's the flexibility great sportspeople have. He has that in his mental toughness." – Kevin Sheedy 

This is an edited version of a story published in the round one edition of the AFL Record.