We see the tattoos. His shaved hair. His hard man persona. His crocodile menace. People want to know about every facet of his life because he is an Australian rules football superstar. But he just wants to remain anonymous outside of his chosen domain.
In Castlemaine, Victoria, from where Richmond star Dustin Martin springs, there are plenty of distractions but AFL is the alpha and the omega. It’s religion. Music. You don’t go ten pin bowling in Melbourne. Nor develop a taste for French new-age cinema. What you do is go to the field and you play footie.
The game is everything to the people. You open the sports section of a newspaper around Melbourne and eight of the ten pages are devoted to footie. The chances are that you’ll also see a picture of Martin plastered across the pages if the Tigers are in action.
He is their master and inspiration.
Inside the Melbourne Cricket Ground last Saturday, over 100,000 watched the Grand Final, Australia’s version of the Super Bowl, where Richmond were bidding for their second Premiership in three years.
GWS, competing in their first decider, did their best to keep Martin under MI5-like security surveillance for the 80 minutes, but great players always find a way to flourish.
Martin kicked four goals, racked up 22 disposals including four inside 50s, and directly set up two majors for his team-mates.
But even those healthy statistics don’t do justice to Martin’s dazzling impact in an 89-point hammering of GWS.
The 28-year-old went on to seal his second Norm Smith Medal – awarded to the best player in the final – becoming just the fourth person in history to win the honour twice, adding to his two premiership medals and a Brownlow from back in 2017.
Given his searing form of two years ago, it was always going to be difficult for Martin to equal his Brownlow-winning standards, let alone surpass them.
The numbers say he won less ball (26.1 disposals in contrast to 29.8) than the 2017 season, but was equally productive in attack (32 goals in comparison to 37 majors), which is why he remains such a menace to any opponent.
When pressed about his individual achievements, the Tigers ace always deflects attention away from himself and praises the team. He doesn’t like being a central figure off the pitch, instead wanting his skills to do the talking.
He is notoriously private about his life, with Australian tabloids itching to do what tabloids do and push aside the boundaries between public and private life.
There are often stories about his father Shane, who was deported to New Zealand in 2016 under Australia’s Immigration Act on the grounds of bad character. Shane was reportedly a top-ranking member of Australia’s Rebels motorcycle gang.
‘Dusty’ though doesn’t come without his own controversies either.
In 2012, he slept in and missed training after taking prescription sleeping medication and received a two-week suspension.
The following year, while celebrating a goal against Carlton, he made a controversial jailhouse gesture, by crossing his wrists as if to signal handcuffs, and received a fine, which was later suspended.
In 2015, he gave a two-finger salute to cheerleaders from rival club Collingwood after scoring a goal in a resounding 91-point win.
Since making those mistakes, like young, immature players often do, he has changed his ways and started to show career best form.
When he was drafted from Castlemaine in 2009, Martin told recruiters he was born to play football. And he was born to light up the grand stage. His team-mates will clear the space and he has that natural swagger to produce the magic, whether it’s shooting for goal or dishing the ball off for a colleague to take the score.
But he could have easily been lost to the game. If he had been drafted to the Gold Coast back in 2009, or to another poorly resourced club, they may have lost hope in him because of his steely attitude.
What a shame it would have been for one of the game’s key protagonists to have been just a cautionary tale.
Richmond, however, had faith in him. They kept with him. They smoothed out those rougher edges. They stood up for him. They taught him all the small things – how to train properly, how to eat, how to recover and how to become a champion.
Now, 250 goals and 224 appearances later, he is at the epicenter of the yellow and blacks’ success and stands comfortably among the top players in the game.
A second Premiership medal sits on his mantelpiece now but, earlier this year, the prospect of reaching a Grand Final seemed like an unrealistic dream. Ravaged by injuries, Richmond were beaten by 67 points by Geelong in round 12 and went into the bye week with six defeats in 13 matches.
But as the weeks passed and momentum gathered, Martin and the Tigers roared back to life to win 10 games in a row and reach the final. Against Brisbane, Martin hummed with godliness, kicking six goals from nine attempts. The bite was back.
As the celebrations drag long into the week, Richmond continue to establish themselves as the competition’s formidable force. Saturday’s win over GWS will only add to their confidence and ambitions ahead of the 2020 season.
For Martin, the best is yet to come as he approaches the twilight of his glittering career.
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