ORIGINAL ARTICLE BY: MARK ROBINSON
From: Herald Sun, February 5 2011
DUSTIN Martin learned plenty in his first season of AFL – and after his first off-season.
First or second day back for pre-season training, coach Damien Hardwick gave him a rocket in front of the entire playing list after he presented himself “unfit” for a time-trial around the Botanic Gardens Tan track.
It was not a case of partying too hard for Martin, more not eating the right foods and not having the training and matches five times a week to burn off the excess.
“It wasn’t as if I sat on my bum and ate Maccas for the whole summer,” Martin said. “I was eating and not burning it off as much.
“I did cop a bit of spray, but then I got on with it. I had a chat to the fitness coach and then it was head down.
“Obviously, I wasn’t up to the expectations of the footy club.
“It was a reality check. Never again. I’ve learnt from my mistake and now I know to come back in better nick.”
A re-worked diet and a natural hunger to train ensured Martin lost the excess within weeks and in the club’s first intra-club match, he racked up 30 touches in just 20 minutes of footy.
Martin weighs 86kg, three kilograms lighter than his playing weight last season and is fitter, quicker and stronger.
He has a greater understanding of how to play AFL and what his role is at the Tigers.
“I’m pretty surprised how fit I am,” Martin said. “I’ve got through the whole pre-season without injury, which is good, so the body is holding up pretty well.”
On the field, the No.3 draft pick from 2009, with the fierce desire to hunt the inside ball, quickly became a revelation for Tiger fans in search of a new hero.
They found three young men around whom they could rebuild the football club: Martin, Jack Riewoldt and Trent Cotchin.
While “Jumping Jack” was a photographer’s dream with weekly hangers and a Coleman Medal-winning 78 goals, Martin, at 18, slogged it out against some of the game’s best midfielders.
He finished fourth in the best and fairest, second in contested possessions and inside 50s and was the team’s best clearance player.
He averaged 20 possessions and was fourth in tackles and handballs.
Before he was drafted, Martin told the Herald Sun he believed he was “born to play AFL”.
It was a comment that raised eyebrows at the time, but by season’s end, the Tigers privately ranked him the best young player at the club since the great Royce Hart arrived in the late 1960s.
Martin is laid-back and softly spoken, so the accolades poured on him do not faze him and, more importantly, do not swell his ego.
“I guess you do read and hear them, but it doesn’t really bother me,” Martin said. “I just listen to my coaches and teammates and do what they tell me.”
The AFL, he said, was exactly what he thought it would be: exciting, confronting, dominating.
“It’s your life, everything’s footy. You’re at the club seven days a week and when you’ve got your off time, you try to get away from footy a bit, try not to think about it,” Martin said.
“But, yeah, I love every minute of it. I love going to the club every day, everything about it is great.
“It’s been a massive eye opener. I remember Round 1 against Carlton, I couldn’t keep up with the play.
“I went OK in the NAB Challenge, but I couldn’t believe how fast Round 1 was. It was a blur.
“Players were running flat out everywhere and I battled to keep up.
“I started in the middle. I think there was me, (Brett) Deledio and Cotchin in there. It was crazy, the noise, the crowd, honestly it was a blur. It was awesome.” Off-field, Martin’s life is settled.
He lived initially with a host family after being drafted and then with teammates Jayden Post and Ben Nason before accepting an invitation nine months ago to live with Tigers president Gary March and his wife, Bev.
“I appreciate them having me in,” he said. “I’m very comfortable there.”
He said he ate at home four or five times a week.
“I lived with the host family, but I just wanted to get out with the boys. But after a little while I wasn’t ready to live out on my own, not in my first year of AFL.
“I just like the family kind of environment.
“Marchy had the spare room and it has helped me a lot.
“It’s hard to explain. I just felt more comfortable, a bit more relaxed living with a family instead of out on my own.
“Not that Posty’s was bad, it’s just a little more structured.
“Posty is mature for his age (and) was the big boss of the house.”
There are no more additions to the highly publicised ink added mid-year to his neck and torso, although the hair could be described as “mullety”. “Cuzman (Ben Cousins) used to have a few wisps of hair at the back and we were mucking around one day and I promised him a few inches at the back,” he said, laughing.
“I might keep it going.”
As for footy, Martin would never be one to hype up expectations and said the message at Richmond was to improve.
“We just want to continually improve,” he said.
“We aren’t going to say we’re going to win this many games or that many games, we just want to improve. Defence is No.1 but we want to improve in all areas.
“We have a lot of belief in each other, there’s a lot of energy around, the confidence is growing.”
The learning caper for Martin continued when he and teammates Kelvin Moore and Shane Edwards were the scouting party ahead of last week’s abandoned clash against the Indigenous All-Stars in Alice Springs.
Upon landing last Wednesday, in excruciating heat, the Tiger trio visited the Ltyentye Apurte Community Education Centre, 80km south-east of Alice Springs, in the Santa Teresa community, where Richmond has embarked on an indigenous schools program.
“It was amazing, I loved it,” Martin said.
“It’s my first time, it was definitely eye opening and I’ve got a lot of respect for the communities and people there.”