GWS didn't know Dustin Martin was coming until he arrived. Richmond never thought he was going, and this year he has definitively arrived.
Martin was out of contract and encouraged by a bullish manager to explore his options to squeeze more dollars than had been available at Punt Road. He arrived in western Sydney to meet the club chiefs. They politely obliged and showed him around, sat down and had a cup of tea.
Martin was asked who his mentors were. "Damien Hardwick and Trent Cotchin," he replied.
The Giants' chief executive and list manager looked at one another and wondered what he was doing there. Martin looked inside and thought the same thing, for his heart was at Richmond. They knew it and so did he. Soon after, he re-signed with the Tigers.
"I didn't know he said that about me. Thanks Dusty," Cotchin said on Monday.
"The reality is he was never going anywhere. I am close with Dusty and, yes, he toured the GWS facilities, but in my heart I knew he was always going to be a Richmond player."
There had been no prima donna storming out from Richmond so there was no sheepish return. Martin walked back into the club as though he had never left. Well, in fact, he had never actually left. It's also easier to come back when your captain doesn't think you are going anyway, and instead just smiles and shakes his head.
Cotchin likes little things about Martin. Like the way he speaks now, his conversation like his football has evolved and matured. He likes his magnetic presence on the field too.
It was unsurprising that when the goal needed to be kicked in the closing minutes on Saturday night it came from Martin. It was unsure if it was by design that Martin was the man to be isolated in the forward line – it probably was – but when the moment demanded the match winner the ball found Martin. It has become what he does.
He is a troubling player one out up forward. Like Mark Ricciuto to whom he has often been compared, his strength enables him to compete in the air with bigger opponents but that same strength stops him from being dislodged from the ball, so he stays on his feet when others fall over.
His speed is too explosive for lumbering defenders, his strength too great for whippy back flankers. He doesn't always take the mark but he is rarely out-marked. If and when he gets the ball to ground he is a good chance to win it.
Not for the first time this year Martin has kicked the clutch goal when it mattered. Three times he has done it in fact. Three times this year he has kicked a goal after the 20-minute mark of the last quarter when the margin was less than two goals. (He is second in the AFL this year for that stat behind Stewart Crameri).
"I think if you speak to the majority, if not all, of our playing group that is exactly what they would say – that he has that charisma as a player," Cotchin said.
"If it goes in one-on-one to Dusty you know you are definitely not going to lose the contest and in most cases he is going to make something of it whether it be a scoring opportunity or a guaranteed goal. He probably had two or three chances on the weekend to kick the goal and he kicked one, which was the most important one.
"And not just kicking the goal. I think the time we played Carlton early in the year there was a ball that went in to a one-on-two and Dusty chased it all the way to the boundary. It only resulted in a stoppage but had they won that and transferred it the other way it might have been a different result. So it is not just the goals it is his intensity and his effort and we love playing with him. He is a great person, very genuine and just continuing to improve."
Like Brett Deledio, Martin has spent more time forward this year – moves that Hardwick admitted had been central to the second half resurgence of the side, but only able to have happened because of Brandon Ellis and Anthony Miles (surely the best rookie player of the year) so ably covering their absence in the midfield.
He has booted 27 goals this year to be the equal second highest goalkicking midfielder in the AFL. He is equal with Kangaroo Brent Harvey and behind only Port Adelaide's Robbie Gray of goalkickers who are also in the top 50 ball getters in the competition. He is ranked only behind Jack Riewoldt at the Tigers for goals kicked, score involvements and scoreboard impact (whatever that is).
Among the Tigers he is a giant. At the Giants they always knew he was a Tiger.
Michael Gleeson is a senior AFL football writer and Fairfax Media's athletics writer. He also covers tennis, cricket and other sports. He won the AFL Players Association Grant Hattam Trophy for excellence in journalism for the second time in 2014 and was a finalist in the 2014 Quill Awards for best sports feature writer. He was also a finalist in the 2014 Australian Sports Commission awards for his work on ‘Boots for Kids’. He is a winner of the AFL Media Association award for best news reporter and a two-time winner of Cricket Victoria’s cricket writer of the year award. Michael has covered multiple Olympics, Commonwealth Games and world championships and 15 seasons of AFL, He has also written seven books - five sports books and two true crime books.
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