Dusty Martin; not necessarily the traditional type, but a role model for the ages.
Just the sight of him, for those not knowing he’s an elite athlete, could be the showcase piece in your children's nightmares. Yet, these same distinctive features; rapidly becoming the most recognisable in the business, offer something so remarkably desirable, it’s actually hard to ignore. On the surface, Dustin Martin reeks of bad news and just a few months ago I would have undoubtedly broadcasted, ‘he is!’ There’s a certain waft of “thug” when his presence ceremoniously arrives. But this is certainly not the case. Most noteworthy, if one who is indeed lucky enough to come into his presence you may witness an impression that is quite the opposite. And with this we stand in ovation, this champion idol, his very finest endowments in tow, has shone gloriously on the mightiest of stages. This Richmond icon, 'Dusty', is a lot of things but foremost an ideal role model for all.
The old saying goes, ‘never judge a book by its cover’, and within this incredible script, albeit one that would sell millions of copies regardless of what was slapped upon the shell, the contents would embrace something far beyond the imagination of its readers. Of what may occupy the mind when peering at the book’s jacket, a very different tale would ensue. This rough, tattoo-laden and uncultivated bloke brings a certain wonder in all walks of life but throughout what will most likely go down as the most brilliant year of his life, a charismatic, almost adorable personality has surfaced from beyond his image. He smacks of swagger and arrogance, yet instils warmth in thousands, filling the hearts of not just his Tiger faithful. You could be forgiven for preconceiving Dusty as many things; a footballer straight from the brute-lit eighties perhaps. Alongside Dermie, David Reece-Jones and ‘Wacko’ Jacko, carrying on with hard-hitting thuggery, instead, we watch in awe the bullocking prowess though within every inch of our great game’s rule book. His attack on anything that resides in his path is relentless, his power is jaw dropping and his sheer will, nauseatingly intimidating. What is most captivating though, and perhaps unrivalled, especially now Bob Murphy from the Western Bulldogs has retired, is his selflessness. I know right, who would’ve thought this attribute would leave such a mark on us? Using your strengths to strengthen others and bring about solidarity is something even the world’s greatest leaders are unable to achieve. Yet Dusty practices this. All the time. This Richmond icon is an ideal role model for all.
His story voices a careless kid, who left school at fourteen, drifting meaninglessly; in every sense of the phrase. No doubt, he gave his teachers little respect in which the favour would’ve been returned but for this lad, dreams weren’t to be chased in text books within a classroom. Once again, this image of society’s failure emits itself but Dusty had other ideas. He matured quickly and took great pride in three things: loyalty to his family, his hair and his footy. A distant drought that was the Richmond Football Club’s premiership tilt was beseeching upon a forecast of rain. Despite many in this teen’s life stamping him a good for nothing failure, Dusty devised how his dream of AFL glory would become a reality; for, on this platform, he could show his doubters he was made to create history, his way. Once again, the cover could never quite tell this tale.
Like all fairy tales, Dusty’s road to his happy ending (which culminated on AFL Grand Final day as he etched his name in history as the first, perhaps never to be repeated, to win the medal treble, winning the Brownlow, Norm Smith and Premiership Medals all in one season) had plenty of potholes; many threatened to derail his journey completely. None more so than his off-field misdemeanours. But, ever resilient, this determined greenhorn proved everyone wrong for not the first time in his life. He grew wiser; his preparation become more diligent and his performance enhanced accordingly, becoming exemplary in his consistent ability to dazzle in front of a stirred footy nation. The mental rigour, robust and uncanny, lays a foundation for the softer, more palatable (in the eyes of mothers around the country) side of Dusty. He inspires others to give only their best, regardless of the, what he tongues, “outside noise”. He generates excitement and puts bums on seats. This man is contagious, even addictive. His expertise on the footy field is transfixing, "will anybody ever tackle him by the hips?”, we query whilst shaking our heads in sheer delirium, for haven’t we seen this before? Consistency is a product of the ‘behind the scenes’ work this weapon completes but surely he can’t keep fending off and baffling his opponents. Can he? This guy is so driven; it is hard to see him ever slowing down. His dash excites and we will continue to question whether he will ever be beaten in a one on one battle. These individual attributes are simply special but they are not what makes him so uncompromising.
We watched his interviews on Brownlow night and the ensuing days with cynical smiles. Many even patronised. We loved his honesty yet couldn’t help but giggle at his manner. Clearly uneducated, at times inarticulate and often leaving a distasteful lump in our throats. He is a ruffian; bordering bogan so why is he so appealing to listen to. We hang on every short sentence he tries to project; he is helplessly mitigating incomprehensible lines of questioning to the best of his ability. He is not a journo, nor is he a scholar; he’s a footballer and a bloody top bloke. He, like his statements in response to a Bruce McAveney ‘special’ proposition, is raw. We, as an adoring cheer squad for the guy, hopelessly hold our hearts, for the bloke is as genuine a person as we’ve seen. He navigates difficult prophetic interrogations like he is talking to his high school councillor; a shrug of the shoulders here, a nervous and defensive profanity there. There’s so much to pick at this guy but we don’t, we just sit and admire. What Dustin Martin brings to the table and the footy field is realism. He is who he is and that’s commendable. He has had leadership of a different kind inherently bestowed upon him now and kudos to that. Kids should go out try the ‘don’t argue’ and inside out banana kicks directly in front of goals, why not? Heck, even let them shave the side of their skull like the Tiger number 4. If it makes them more driven, to aspire to be like their hero; their role model, then so be it.
Nobody is perfect and Dusty Martin is far from it but what his imperfections allow us to marvel at most is his ability to do just that: be imperfect. He has and will continue to make mistakes; on and off the field. We acknowledge he, like everyone else, is human. We long for our own kids to look upon this unfolding reference in history as they make independent choices in life. We realise people don’t need ‘the look’ or pretentious badges in life – the private school upbringing, the model citizen of the month certificates or the clothes which radiate ‘darling kid you take to neighbourhood bbq’s with pride', we just need undisputed authentic individuals. And one Dustin Martin encompasses this with high distinction. Champion player, a role model for all.