Dustin Martin knows how to create space for himself. His signature one-arm fend-off became the defining image of last year’s AFL season, halting would-be defenders in their tracks as he burst out of stoppages. If Martin’s likeness is ever cast in bronze outside Richmond’s Punt Road Oval headquarters, and after last year it very well could be, it will surely be with that arm outstretched.
The same long, tattooed limb guards Martin’s private life too, creating a mystique few have been able to penetrate. When he arrives at MH’s shoot at a studio in St Kilda he’s polite but circumspect as stylists and make-up artists fuss over him. In front of the camera, the initial shots are awkward and stilted. Then someone throws him a Sherrin. In an instant the complexion of the afternoon changes. Martin begins to relax, hand-passing the ball to himself as he starts to open up to the crew. Ever so slightly, the arm’s been lowered.
That Martin prefers to let his football do the talking isn’t really surprising. Many of the great ones do. Ablett and Buddy before him have fiercely guarded their privacy. And besides, Martin’s football really can talk.
Last year he played what former Hawthorn legend Leigh Matthews called the greatest season in the history of the game, winning the Brownlow and Norm Smith medals, while delivering the delirious Tiger faithful their first premiership in 37 years. Richmond’s general manager of football Neil Balme jokes that they should have let Martin run the half-time sprint because he probably would have won that too.
How a shy country boy from the old goldfields town of Castlemaine rose to such heights is the kind of stuff that often gets mythologised, devoured by rabid fans before entering club folklore. "Whenever i see a young kid with a Richmond jersey and i ask who their favourite player is, 98-99 per cent say Dustin Martin," says former Richmond great and Channel 7 commentator Matthew Richardson. "He's capture the imagination of a lot of people. He's like a superhero."
Don't be misled. Look beyond the tattoos and the mohawk (it's a little closer cropped today) and past the headlines. As a larger-than-life as he might appear, what Martin did last year can be broken down into its component parts, and like any phenomenon, once you peel back the layers what you find is both relatable, and, at least in practice, replicable.
Asked what catapulted his play last year Martin’s answer is predictably straight-forward: “Just finding a range of different things during the week that prepare me to play my best.” Those things include meditation and boxing. Nothing particularly special there – many athletes dabble in those disciplines these days. But what Martin did was use them to once again create space for himself, this time inside his head. Anyone can do the same but unless you’re ready to get the best out of yourself, such powerful tools remain blunt instruments. Fortunately, Martin had done what every man needs to do at some point in his life. He’d looked in the mirror.
For the whole story, pick up a copy of the April edition of Men's Health Australia, in-store Monday, 12th March.