Jason Dunstall was blessed with all the traits required to become a superstar of the AFL and as of now, a Legend in the Australian Football of Fame.

But it was his legendary work ethic and competitiveness, rather than just pure talent, that led him to kick 1254 goals and become the third greatest VFL/AFL goalkicker of all-time, a six-time century goalkicker and a key figure in four premiership teams.

At the start of 1985, two interstate recruits arrived at Glenferrie. One was Steve Malaxos, a premiership player at Claremont and the previous year's Sandover medallist. Such was the hype that he appeared on the cover of the Record ahead of the opening game of the season, against Essendon at VFL Park.

Dunstall also made the Record that week. Except his name was misspelt as 'Dunstan'. Fair to say that there wasn't the same excitement about the full-forward from Coorparoo in Brisbane's inner suburbs, who was named on a half-back flank in the reserves in his opening game. However, what was already notable to key figures at Glenferrie was Dunstall's insatiable desire to do the work required.

In his first summer at the club, after lagging badly in the initial running sessions, he took it upon himself to arrange extra sessions on weekends, ostensibly the players' time off. The appetite for hard work was already plain to see.

In a 16-game debut season, he kicked 36 goals but was clearly playing second fiddle to fellow Hall of Fame Legend Leigh Matthews, who was in his final year of a decorated career. "I was the new kid on the block that no one knew, and I was just sort of trying to find a way," Dunstall remembers.

But the following season, the Hawks handed the forward line keys to Dunstall and he really got to work.


Training in those semi-professional days consisted of a Monday running session, heavy skills and match practice on Tuesdays and a lighter, more refined session on Thursdays ahead of the Saturday games. That left Wednesday nights free and that's when Dunstall set about becoming the champion full-forward who filled his bag each week with multiple goals.

He had Glenferrie Oval to himself. He would get there late in the afternoon, accompanied by George Stone, Hawthorn's runner and skills coach, and they would get to work.

"I spent a lot of time with 'Stoney'. We became great mates," he says.

"We'd do fitness training, we'd do gym sessions, chin-ups and push-ups and crunches and all sorts of things. And lots of goalkicking. It was great."

The story that Dunstall would practice his goalkicking until the lights were switched off isn't quite right. If things didn't feel quite right, he would keep on going in the dark.

"There was no set number," he says of his weekly routine. "You'd kick until you felt good about it. And if you were having some problems, you'd stay out there until you kind of solved them. Not that you always did.

"And again, I was a lot more wayward kick early days than I was later, after years of refining it, if you like. So, we could spend an hour, two hours out there easily.

"And we did a lot of hands work too. Marking the ball in the hands, close range, just drilling the ball at you, just making sure the hands were as good as they could be."

As the main man once Matthews retired, the goals began to come; 77 in the 1986 premiership year, which included six in the Grand Final against Carlton, the team of his youth. He sent the great Bruce Doull into retirement on a sad note after dominating him in the flag decider.

But again, it was the competitiveness that stood out. Doull might have been his idol, but as Dunstall says, "he flogged me in the semi-final (and) kept me goalless".

In 1987, Dunstall was on track to become Hawthorn's first centurion since Peter Hudson a decade before, but he rolled his ankle in the semi-final when on 94 goals and missed both the preliminary and Grand Final that year.

But there was no stopping him in 1988, a glorious year during which Hawthorn lost just three games and flogged Melbourne by 88 points in the Grand Final. Hawthorn didn't skip a beat under the coaching of Alan Joyce (Allan Jeans had stood down for the year for health reasons) and Dunstall's 133-goal return was a key reason why.

He would kick more than 100 goals on five more occasions – 138 in the 1989 premiership season, 145 in 1992, 123 in 1993, 101 in 1994 and 102 in 1996.

The last century was achieved in the most dramatic fashion imaginable, a 10-goal haul against Melbourne in the famous merger match (the two clubs were in merger talks at the time) in the final game of the home-and-away season that the Hawks won narrowly to seal an unlikely finals berth.

He was robbed of another century in 1990 when a fractured cheekbone kept him out for four games, while he could well have challenged his contemporary rival Tony Lockett's all-time tally of 1360 had he had played more than 21 games in his final two seasons.

"He was the benchmark," Dunstall says of Lockett. "That's who you marked yourself by. That's who everyone was chasing as far as being a goalkicking forward was concerned. So I was incredibly competitive again. And it was nice to have someone setting the bar that high that gives you something to chase. I think we had really good healthy respect for each other."

Dunstall was at the peak of his powers in 1992. It was the year he came second in the Brownlow Medal, two votes behind Scott Wynd, and also when he kicked 17 goals against Richmond at Waverley, falling one short of equalling Fred Fanning's record for most goals in a game. He might well have broken it had he not done the team thing of passing to teammates in better positions and working his way up the ground to play some team defence.

What made Dunstall's goal tally all the more remarkable was that he played by no means a lone hand in the Hawthorn forward line. He had champion centre half-forward Dermott Brereton as a teammate for the first eight years of his career, while the likes of Gary Buckenara, Tony Hall, Paul Dear, Paul Abbott, Peter Curran, Paul Hudson and Jamie Morrissey could all seriously play and would regularly kick bags of goals on their own.

He kicked 38 per cent of Hawthorn's goals in that rampaging 1992 season, but in other years that figure usually ran between 20 and 30 per cent.

So how did so much talent come together so successfully and, in most cases, park their egos for the sake of the side?

"Back then it was a positional game, which is something completely different to what the game is now because everyone's up and back and just flooding in and out and all those sorts of things," Dunstall explains.

"Everyone played positional football and it was about keeping space for the key forwards and then the half-forwards could lead up. They would crumb some as the forward pockets, but they'd drop into holes as well.

"We just had a really good mix. It was just the way the game was played. If you could beat your opponent, you beat your opponent."

Dunstall was not the most demonstrative of players. The outward displays of ferocity at Hawthorn were left to the likes of Brereton, Robert DiPierdomenico and Gary Ayres. But what that did was mask the aforementioned competitiveness that got him to where it did.

"I thought my competitiveness was my greatest strength," he says. "I just hated losing, whether it be a contest, a game, anything, any aspect of it. I was super competitive. I loved it.

"There was just a competitive drive there and to me that was the most important thing. So that's where you get the drive to practice all your skills, to do those Wednesday night sessions, to do everything to make you better so that you could compete better when the weekend came around. I would think that was the thing that stood out to me in my mind more than anything.

"And I thought I developed a really good pair of hands, probably second to competitiveness."

On the lead, Dunstall was impossible to stop. Once the likes of John Platten and Darrin Pritchard and - later on - Darren Jarman hit him up on a lead, well, you could pretty much etch another goal next to his name in the AFL Record.

"I always put 'Pritch' in my top three teammates because he could kick on both sides of the body, as could Johnny Platten and Darren Jarman, who I've always rated as the best because he had range on both feet, could kick it anywhere and just put it on the spot for you," he says.

"(But) Benny Allan was a great kick. Bucky (Buckenara) on his right foot was spectacular but couldn't kick on his left. That was just for balance. But his right foot was amazing, so I was very privileged to get some great service."

But what has been forgotten over time was his explosiveness. Nobody at Hawthorn was quicker over 10 metres, although as he notes with a laugh, "It wound down very quickly. I actually couldn't run out of sight in a dark night".

When playing state football for Queensland as a teenager, Dunstall came to Melbourne and initially trained with Fitzroy, but in the end the Lions looked elsewhere. Joining the Hawks at the time he did was a great stroke of fortune.

"The high standards were already there," he says.

"Allan Jeans obviously was at the helm, but people like Russell Greene had come over and had taken his fitness levels to the extreme levels that you could possibly have. There were stories after the '85 Grand Final (an 84-point loss to Essendon) of some players training the next day because they were that bitter about it. And these are guys that had won in '83, lost in '84, lost again in '85.

"So it was just the group at the time demanded high standards of each other."

Jeans moulded Dunstall as a young man and it was subsequent coaches - Joyce, Peter Knights and Ken Judge - who got to reap the benefits. Jeans was big on him keeping his feet. "And that also then allowed you to put pressure on to chase, to tackle, to do all those sorts of things," he explains.

"He pushed that home first and foremost, on top of extra fitness; you’ve got to get yourself to a fitness level to match all these other guys."

Dunstall showed great loyalty to the Hawks when the then Brisbane Bears offered him a small fortune to return to Queensland in the early 1990s. But the combination of a forthcoming testimonial year, looming life membership and building a dream home in Warrandyte tipped the scales in favour of remaining at the Hawks.

"We were settled down here. I was at a great club that was winning. So whilst it was a very attractive offer and I was very appreciative of it in the end, I think it was a reasonably comfortable decision just to stay where I was," he says.

The Bears ended up giving the money to Alastair Lynch instead.

In any event, it wasn’t quite 'Struggle Street' for Dunstall at the Hawks. He became a star of the game at the right time. It was a part-time job, but it had its benefits and the Hawks of that time knew not just how to win, but to enjoy winning.

"So we'd go out after games and it was a lot of fun. With a lot of your teammates, wives, girlfriends, you'd have some big nights because then unless you were injured, you didn't have to train on the Sunday. But otherwise it was a play Saturday and then the next time you're at the club was Monday night. So that was kind of cool. You had a bit of time off and you could socialise and we had a great social life back then, but there was that balance with all of that."

And he was one of the first players to cash in on his fame. A foundation member of player manager Ricky Nixon's Club 10 group alongside Gary Ablett snr, Wayne Carey, Tony Lockett and Garry Lyon, he seamlessly combined media work with his playing career and has since parlayed that into becoming one of the most respected and authoritative media figures in the game for the last 25 years.

His single-mindedness as a player comes out in his commentary and he calls it as he sees it. And if that means dissing on the Hawks, so be it. But the passion for the brown-and-gold has never subsided, it just gets compartmentalised for a few hours on TV.

"It's no different as a former player; you love your club, so you want to see them do well. And when they're not doing well, it's bloody hard, let me tell you. But when calling, you just try and be as professional as you can."

It is because of his high-profile media role that the AFL took the unusual step of announcing his elevation to Legend status two months ago. Given the frenzied speculation ahead of every Hall of Fame evening, it would have been too difficult for him to keep this genie in the bottle.

"I'm really glad they did that," he says. "But until the night's over, I'm going to be incredibly nervous. And there is still a little bit of embarrassment because you are just doing something that you love, basically. I was lucky to play the game and to still be working in the game. The game has been good to me.

"It's worked out nicely. I love my life."

A Legendary life at that.



Playing career: 1985-1998
Games: 269. Goals: 1254

Player honours

  • 2nd (equal) Brownlow Medal 1988, 1992, 3rd (equal) Brownlow Medal 1989
  • Hawthorn Best & Fairest 1988, 1989, 1992, 1993
  • Hawthorn captain 1995-98;
  • Premierships 1986, 1988, 1989, 1991
  • Club leading goalkicker 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998
  • Coleman Medal 1988, 1989, 1992
  • Hawthorn Team of the Century
  • All Australian 1988, 1989, 1992, 1994
  • State of Origin - Victoria (3 games, 14 goals); Queensland (4 games, 10 goals); Allies (1 game, 0 goals). E.J. Whitten Medal, 1989
  • Queensland Team of the Century