THE close friendship between Daniel Connors and Dustin Martin tells a tale of two very different footballers. On Monday night, when the two young men collided for the last time as teammates, they managed to transform what had loomed as the best of times for the Richmond Football Club into the worst.
Certainly in the short term. Connors was officially removed from the club yesterday after the seemingly insignificant breach of missing a 10am Tuesday training session. In truth, he was removed for one mistake too many and for being a bad influence.
It was the mobile phone's fault ... Daniel Connors was once given a black eye by Ben Cousins after wreaking havoc in a Sydney hotel. Photo: Vince Caligiuri
The easily influenced Martin - a wild but likeable young man - was perhaps belatedly celebrating his 21st birthday with a succession of bourbon and Cokes and non-prescription medication when he crashed at Connors' Northcote home. That was his version, one backed by Connors, and whether or not it was the truth, what Richmond did in reaction was to remove from Tigerland the example it did not want Martin to follow.
Both players slept in - Connors' housemate Shane Edwards had not thought to check the closed doors - and were still bleary-eyed when they answered the door to concerned club officials, led by welfare manager Lauren Cooper.
Martin, who was suspended by Richmond, said the undisclosed sleeping drugs he took - not Stilnox - were given to him by a mate and the club said he would undergo counselling as a result of what it fears may not have been an isolated incident.
Easily led ... Dustin Martin Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
Connors, 23, attempted to blame an errant mobile telephone that failed to ring an alarm. Having only regained the qualified faith of coach Damien Hardwick and promoted to the senior side two weeks ago, the Echuca-raised footballer said he had been knocked out by medication prescribed for a series of issues. That he had not been drinking counted for little given he had been sitting by at a mate's place while Martin did - a complete no-no for a Monday night.
Connors' story has been one of constant liability even before that fateful night in Sydney two years ago when he wreaked havoc in a hotel and was given a black eye by Ben Cousins. Late last year he went on another serious bender and upset his teammates and officials by attempting to cover his tracks. Connors was almost sacked then and agreed he was on a last chance.
Martin's story has been full of promise since the club took him at No. 3 in the 2009 national draft. Tough and explosive on the field, emblazoned with tattoos and the product of a bikie father, Martin's tendency to live on the edge saw him move two years ago into the home of Richmond president Gary March.
Illustration: Ron Tandberg.
Businessman March was in London on Olympics business when he took the dreaded call late on Tuesday night. He, too, was devastated. Coincidentally, Martin moved out of March's home yesterday and into his recently purchased first house, in bayside Melbourne, where he will live with his brother.
All manner of rumours have dogged Martin but this was his first official strike in behavioural terms. It is understood both players have been drug tested by the AFL under the competition's illicit drugs program since failing to attend training two days ago. Both were grilled by club officials - football boss Craig Cameron interrogated them separately and remained convinced that neither lied about what took place. He yesterday denied suggestions Martin had a history of dabbling in non-prescription drugs.
Yesterday's suspension left Martin shattered and regretful and put the Tigers at least six men down for this Saturday's MCG match against Melbourne - where a win would catapult the club into the eight.
The struggling Demons yesterday wondered whether dropping one of the club's best players meant that Richmond viewed Melbourne as easybeats. In truth Martin's suspension - he will be banned from all football for two weeks - was taken in the interest of short-term pain for long-term gain.
Both penalties looked harsh given the club's insistence that nothing more sinister had taken place than what was revealed by Craig Cameron. And yet both penalties were in consultation with and were not challenged by either the AFL players union or the managers of the two young men.
Late last Saturday, Richmond - after just two finals appearances in three decades - looked bound for September, leading premiership contender Adelaide at three-quarter time. The Tigers lost the game, two star players for at least a month, another since then for the remainder of the season and another in midfield leader Daniel Jackson who was suspended for yet another on-field transgression.
And then on Monday night two more Tigers knocked themselves out - one of them crucial to the club's next decade. Five days can be a long time in football.