IT’S BEEN THE perfect year for Dusty Martin – so far. And the new Brownlow medallist isn’t finished yet, says Chief Writer RON REED:
LIKE EVERYTHING else in footy, the Brownlow medal count doesn’t always go according to the popular script – but it did this year. The unbackable favourite, Dustin Martin, duly won by accumulating a massive number of votes from the umpires – 36, which was one more than the record set last year by Geelong’s Patrick Dangerfield, and which included 11 best afield nominations, also a record. As was also taken as read in advance, Dangerfield was the next best vote-getter with 33 despite being ineligible because of suspension, and then there was daylight to the next in line, Hawthorn’s Tom Mitchell, 11 votes behind the winner.
Predictable as the result was, the count was not without a certain drama as Dangerfield threatened throughout to upstage the man to whom he would then have to present the medal, according to protocol, and even drew level in the final round before Martin simultaneously riposted with another irresistible performance. A tie or even a Dangerfield “win” might have been awkward for all concerned, or it might not. Dangerfield is such a laid-back character that it would not have fazed him and Martin, not nearly as comfortable in the spotlight, nonetheless seems to have an enviable knack of shrugging off – fending off, to employ the expression commonly applied to his on-field style – whatever white noise exists while he goes about his business. And there has been a lot of that this year, and in years past, for a variety of reasons.
It will go down as a popular win, also for a variety of reasons. One is that there can be no dispute that he is the season’s best player, regardless of how close Dangerfield came. Martin won just about all the awards judged by other players, coaches and the media and if he was always too short in the betting market to be much of a money-maker for anyone, no-one ever went broke backing a winner at any price. Ask the fans of the mighty mare Winx or Black Caviar before her.
There is also a realisation that has been coming to the boil for some time now that you can’t necessarily judge a book by its cover, at least not in this case. Martin’s all-over tattoos and unorthodox haircut make him look like a mean son-of-a-dude, and the dude he is a son of, his dad Shane, an equally inked-up motorbike identity who the Government and the cops won’t allow back into the country, adds to that. Dusty has just about – perhaps not entirely but almost – lived down the infamous chopsticks affair of two or three years ago when he was accused, almost certainly unfairly, of threatening a woman in a restaurant while he was a bit molly the monk.
His reluctance to engage with the media, even to give his image a bit of spit and polish, probably hasn’t helped much, either, although it’s entirely his prerogative. It is also now proving totally unnecessary. Hitherto, he has come across as something of a throwback to a much earlier Brownlow medallist with an edgy reputation, Tony Lockett, who also mostly declined to talk about himself or much else to the media, but who last weekend revealed himself at great length to be a very straightforward, likeable and sensible bloke. Maybe this is a transition that awaits Martin somewhere down the track, perhaps a long way down it, or maybe it isn’t.
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With this in mind, and the vote count such a foregone conclusion, many would have been anticipating his acceptance speech/interview as the most interesting part of the night. It probably was too. He wasn’t particularly comfortable doing it, which was no surprise whatsoever, but he handled himself in immaculate fashion, expressing his immense respect for Dangerfield, underscoring his clear preference for being out on the field where it is “game on” rather than seeing “my ugly face in the paper” as his contract negotiations dominated the news cycle at one stage. He admitted that like most young blokes he liked to “play up” a bit but had been advised to pull his head in and had done so. And he left nobody unmoved when the sensitive subject of his banished dad was broached. “He means the world to me – it is a special father-son relationship,” he said. Even his prepared note of thanks hit the spot.
In short, if you were looking for some hint of ratbaggery you weren’t in much luck. He is clearly a bloke comfortable in his own skin, confident now that he has found his path in life – “it’s all I ever wanted to do,” he said at the press conference – but still slightly surprised, perhaps, just how rewarding it is turning out to be, as you would be with a long-term contract worth more than a million dollars a year in your kick while still in your mid-twenties. He is what he is, he seems well aware of precisely that and there is not the slightest sign he is trying to be anything or anyone else. Having Brownlow medallist after his name seems unlikely to change that.
Perhaps the ultimate reason why the applause will be unstinting this week is that there is an enormous amount of goodwill surrounding Richmond’s attempt to break a 37-year premiership drought, one that stretches back about a decade before Martin was born. He doesn’t appear to say things for the sake of saying them so his declaration that he loves the club and his team-mates like family will resonate loudly with the Tiger fans, who have always stuck at least as tight as those of any other club in the league, notwithstanding Hawthorn’s “family club” motto or Collingwood’s insistence that they are the ultimate example of sporting brotherhood. This season, more people have watched Richmond play than anyone else, and there are reasons for that – Dusty Martin, Brownlow medallist in the making like very few before him, has been one of them.
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He drank water last night, of course, even forgoing the customary sip of fizz on stage. Wryly, he said he was glad he was in the Grand Final if only because it meant he would not be required to celebrate his win with his mate Dane Swan, the retired Magpie champion who also owns a “Charlie.” “I don’t think I could handle it,” he said, with just a hint of amusement. When it comes the celebration will probably be something to behold but for the rest of the week, he said, it was business as usual. The premiership is there to be won and what could be a more perfect finale to the perfect season than that? Well, he could win the Norm Smith medal for best on ground. Just like the Brownlow, he will almost certainly start hot favourite to do exactly that. Just ask the scriptwriters – they’ve got it right so far.
RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.