Six reasons Dusty can do it again
ON DECEMBER 10 last year the Herald Sun reported Dustin Martin would almost certainly spend the season considering his free agency rights.
His father had been deported months before, his club had endured a year from hell and he was about to spend a season enduring a daily circus over his future.
And yet on Friday night - almost exactly a year on - there was Martin holding court at Crown Casino as the AFL's newest rock star and A-Grade celebrity.
Martin regaled fans with stories of his childhood and footy trip memories with Dane Swan, with an encore planned for March 3, just weeks before Round 1.
Premiership coach Denis Pagan would once have thought it a certain recipe for Martin to trip over his over-sized ego and fall back to earth the following year.
Yet if players are wired differently in this century, the question remains: How can Martin back up a season when he took all before him as the Brownlow medallist, Norm Smith medallist, AFL MVP, Gary Ayres player of the finals and Richmond best-and-fairest winner?
No one has any idea how Richmond will fare after their premiership success, but these factors bode well for Martin to at least provide bang for buck in 2018.
Some players revel in chaos or find motivation in the eye of the storm.
But it is hard to see a positive for Martin in the deportation of dad Shane, which led him to travel to New Zealand to visit him regularly.
Likewise, where is the upside in a contract impasse that went a full 12 months or the Brownlow fever which Martin admits took a mental toll in the back end of the season?
More twists and turns in his father's case seem inevitable but if Shane returned to Australia it couldn't be bad for his son's football.
And a settled future in which Martin isn't battling the media - as he did at Mark Williams' MCG press conference this year - also bodes well for an uncluttered mind.
Martin played every game for Richmond last year, the fifth such occurence in his eight seasons at the Tigers.
Nat Fyfe put together one of the most electric seasons in recent history as a 2015 Brownlow Medallist then played five games due to injury the next year.
While an ACL or season-ending injury is only a tackle or nasty fall away for any player, Martin is one of the AFL's most durable players.
He played sore with a groin in several games this year but judging by his history at least a player who has missed only four of 182 possible games has a good starting point.
The most remarkable aspect of Martin's mind-blowing year is rivals basically gave up tagging him.
Only five players played more than 40 minutes on him - Fyfe (Round 8), Dyson Heppell (Round 10), Ed Curnow (Round 14), Dayne Beams (Round 17), Matt Kennedy (Round 18).
Probably only Curnow's 70 minutes in Round 14 was a pure tag, with Cam Guthrie's excellent run-with role in the qualifying final curtailed by injury.
So do rivals go the hard tag in 2018 when he plays midfield, aware their strategy didn't work last season?
Will they begin to attack him physically, an approach which rarely came this year?
Surely when all else fails some teams will put Martin in the gun with a whole-of-team approach that sees him buffeted at every stoppage.
Champion Data records that Martin played midfield-forward in a 71 per cent v 29 per cent mix.
Often he racked up midfield touches then played centre-forward or even as an isolated forward who was impossible to guard.
It is why he ranked second for score involvements, third for score assists (1.8) and third amongst mids for goals.
The reports are that Martin grew sick of partying in Las Vegas this off-season.
But who hasn't had a mid-holiday epiphany when the bright lights of the Strip caught up with them?
What is more encouraging is that Martin took his preparation into his own hands this year.
He spent time with a mindfulness expert and boxed to add another layer to his preparation, while there wasn't even a whiff of controversy over late-night sightings.
He isn't married with three kids and a labrador yet, but Dusty's maturity means his greatest enemy isn't his off-field actions any more.
Martin has already told friends he is aware of the weight of his contract and his responsibility to Richmond for the money the Tigers have paid him.
As his manager Ralph Carr said the day after striking the seven-year deal: "my priority is to do whatever I can to help them get the best out of Dusty".
Martin has returned from holidays in good shape, has never had a dramatic form slump, and plays for a team which has made finals four of the past five years.
A player who once said he was born to play footy genuinely seems to love AFL and has never been tighter with his teammates.
None of it guarantees anything, but when Richmond weighed the risks of paying him all that money they had to be considerations.
Of the past 10 winners of the Brownlow Medal (excluding Jobe Watson), Fyfe's injury-plagued season the following year was a train wreck.
Trent Cotchin's finished only fifth in the 2013 Jack Dyer Medal after his brilliant 2012 season, later rewarded with a retrospective Brownlow.
But every other winner backed up their Brownlow year.
Patrick Dangerfield nearly polled more votes than Dusty this year, Matt Priddis nearly pipped Fyfe with 28 votes the year after his 2014 Brownlow.
Gary Ablett Jr was 10 lengths clear when a Round 16 injury curtailed his 2014 season, still polling 22 votes.
All of Sam Mitchell, Chris Judd, Gary Ablett (2010 and 2014) did themselves proud as the reigning Brownlow medallist.