They don't make full-forwards like Dunstall anymore
IN THE golden era of Aussie rules, few shone more brightly than the man in the brown and gold jumper.
No football code has the capacity for such high scoring like our indigenous one. And in the late-1980s and early-1990s its greatest aspect was at its greatest.
Arguably the best player produced by Queensland, Jason Dunstall played no small part as one of the most adept at finding the footy, and in turn the middle of the 'big sticks'.
From humble beginnings, growing up in r
ugby league territory in Brisbane, he went from stopping goals as a soccer goalkeeper in his junior days to kicking them as the champion full-forward at Hawthorn.
His tally ended at 1254 to be precise, in 269 games over 14 seasons (1985-1998), making him one of just five VFL/AFL players to have cracked the 1000-milestone, alongside contemporaries Tony Lockett (1360) and Gary Ablett Snr (1030), as well as Gordon Coventry (1299) and Doug Wade (1057).
Four premiership medallions, four club best-and-fairest awards, a place in the hall of fame ... the accolades go on. But if he was playing now, he reckons he wouldn't last a second in the modern game.
"I wouldn't get through training," the now 51-year-old Fox Footy commentator says with a laugh. In fact, he adds, "I wouldn't get invited to the draft camp, don't worry about that. The work players do now is amazing."
Dunstall was renowned for his stocky 188cm frame.
It's folklore that when legendary Hawks coach Allan Jeans was called down to a police station after some of his players had been 'taken in' during an end-of-season night on the town, he told one of the officers that he could shoot "him, him and him, but not the fat one", referring to his prized Queensland recruit.
Then there's long-time on-field partner-in-crime, Dermott Brereton, who fondly refers to Dunstall as 'Piggy'.
Of course the champion goalkicker is being modest.
Backed by modern training techniques and dietary programs, clubs would be only too happy to accommodate a young Dunstall with his explosive speed off the mark, strong hands, and deadly accurate kick.
But there is no doubt today's game at the top level has moved on from the traditional full-forward - a position he and Lockett helped define. Rarely seen out of the attacking 50m arc, their job was to lead out from the goalsquare, take a mark and kick a goal. Few had ever done it better.
Players now roam far and wide, their skin folds at an all-time low and kilometres run at an all-time high. Hawk forward Jack Gunston, who inherited Dunstall's No.19 jumper, will, for instance, often take a saving mark in defence before collecting another in front of his own goal moments later.
Dunstall, though, doesn't lament the past, but embraces the now.
"We played in a great era, but I love the game today and I find it no different to any other time. There's some good games and there's some ordinary games," he says.
"The skills of the players and the athleticism these days is unrivalled."
The competition has also reached a point where teams prefer multiple goalkicking options, and not the one 'spearhead' - one that might kick 14 of a team's 20 majors, such as Dunstall did in a game in 1996.
Fans would love it, but coaches wouldn't. They want their teams to be unpredictable.
And, after a clear slump mid-season, that approach has seen scoring spike again - not as feverishly as 25 years ago, but certainly more so than in the mid-2000s at the height of defensive flooding.
Back-to-back premier Hawthorn, with a full array of forwards, is the trendsetter this season's finalists have tried to emulate.
"The top teams understand that you have to score to win games of football … and recent history shows you've got to be able to score up around 100 points," Dunstall says.
"Most of the good teams are pretty capable because they've got so many different options."
Dunstall topped 100 goals in a season six times throughout his career. It remains to be seen whether a player will ever achieve the feat again.
Still, the game is in safe hands.
THE CHIEF'S SPECIALS
FOR all his dominance, Jason Dunstall was by no means a one-man band in the Hawks' attack.
During a period in which the club contested a record 13-straight finals series (1982-1994), eight grand finals and won five flags (1983, 1986, 1988-89 and 1991), there was also Dermott Brereton, Gary Buckenara, Peter Curran and later Paul Hudson and Darren Jarman.
One current Hawk Dunstall would have loved playing alongside though is Cyril Rioli, as those powerful Hawthorn teams "never really had a small forward … no real crumbers," he says.
"It was a different sort of game, I guess, there was a lot more marking."
The mercurial Rioli (inset) is arguably Dunstall's favourite player to watch.
"I love Cyril. I think Cyril is a favourite of so many because you never know what's going to happen," he says.
Dunstall, however, rates Fremantle onballer and Brownlow Medal favourite Nat Fyfe as highly as any modern-day player.
"He's an amazing athlete. You just wonder if there's anything he's incapable of doing … I'm not sure there is," he says.
"I would love to see him spend a bit more time forward because I think he could also take mark of the year."
Then there's powerfully-built yet agile Western Bulldog Jake Stringer, who Dunstall says has "got a keen sense of the goals", having booted 54 in his third season.
"I love his confidence. He'll back himself in most situations," he says. "I think we're going to enjoy watching him for the next five or 10 years."