As the weather begins to warm up as a precursor to summer, many local footballers are donning the whites for their choice of summer sport, or just hitting the beach relaxing with friends and enjoying the odd quiet ale.
In contrast, many hundreds of players at all 18 AFL clubs are facing the arduous task of beginning the challenge of pre-season training in preparation for the 2013 season.
The vast majority of players on AFL lists are fit youngsters that will relish the challenges set to them, and will attempt to best themselves on the set benchmarks assigned to them by their respective club’s fitness and conditioning staff.
However, spare a thought for the two oldest players in the competition, having to go through the pre-season merry-go-round yet again. 37-year-old Bomber Dustin Fletcher and fellow veteran 34-year-old Kangaroo Brent Harvey will be up against it in 2013.
For Fletcher, active at AFL level since 1993, he is now preparing for a remarkable 21st league season with the Bombers while Harvey, who made his debut with one single match in the Kangaroos’ premiership year of 1996, is tackling his 18th with North Melbourne.
In recent times, only two-time Brownlow Medallist Robert Harvey (383) and Carlton’s games record holder Craig Bradley (375) have played more senior games as these two current greybeards.
At the conclusion of the 2012 season, Fletcher had played 365 games, only 13 short of the club record set by Simon Madden of 378 games. Over at Arden Street, Brent Harvey had recorded 346 senior appearances which is, and should remain, a club record for North Melbourne for many years to come.
The output from each of these players in 2012 was more than serviceable, to say the least.
In the 18 games he played in, Fletcher managed to play his usual standard of consistent football in order to poll enough votes and claim third place in the Essendon best and fairest behind runaway winner, and 2012’s Brownlow Medallist, Jobe Watson.
Harvey played in all 23 matches for the Kangaroos, averaging an impressive 22.6 disposals per game and kicking 35 goals at 1.5 per game. These are figures that are highly comparable to his career average of 20.8 disposals and 1.2 goals per game.
As experienced leaders of teams that are competitive but not yet genuine top four contenders, each of these players will have a key role to play in their club’s push for finals action in 2013.
Fletcher is the general of the defence for Essendon; his long kicking and excellent ability to read the play has served the Bombers well over the years, and his continued constituency suggests there is no reason why he cannot continue to perform this role with distinction next season, and possibly beyond.
Keep in mind that in 2012, there were four players on Essendon’s list that weren’t even born when Dustin Fletcher made his debut in Round 2 of, and with the influx of new draftees soon to arrive at Windy Hill, this number is certain to rise. His leadership down back for the defenders at Essendon will be extremely important.
It is possible that Brent Harvey’s role will change slightly in 2013. While he will still spend time in the midfield, he will be looked upon to become more of a goal-kicking midfielder. A potential target for Harvey to achieve in 2013 will be if he can average around two goals and 20 disposals per game.
At this stage of his career, Harvey is more than capable of achieving similar numbers to yesteryear, and coupled with his on-field leadership and his tenacity towards the football and his opposition, he will be yet again a tremendous asset for the Kangaroos as they look to better their eighth placing in 2012.
While the greybeards might not be as fast, cover as much ground or be as popular with the fans of the fairer sex as their younger counterparts, rest assured they still have a vital role to play for their respective teams in 2013, and you can bet they will be giving their all for one last crack at premiership glory.
If success in September wasn’t on their minds, they would have already hung up the boots and now be sitting on the beach instead of slugging their guts out, preparing for the long road ahead of not just the pre-season, but everything that AFL football throws at its contestants.
Both are experienced enough and still have the will, desire and importantly the ability to be a success in 2013, and as for playing on in 2014, you would be a fool to put it past either of them.