RICHMOND coach Damien Hardwick accepts superstar Tiger Dustin Martin's meeting last month with North Melbourne is part of the new AFL world, but wishes it was not.
The Martin contract saga continues to dominate headlines as Richmond prepares to lock in a top-four berth on Sunday against St Kilda at the MCG.
AFL.com.au's Damian Barrett revealed on Channel 9's The Footy Show on Thursday night that Martin met "about six weeks ago" with key Kangaroos, including Jack Ziebell and Robbie Tarrant.
"I think we're all big boys these days, and I think we've got a fair understanding this thing happens all the time," Hardwick said.
"It's not often it makes its way into the media, (but) that's how it is. North aren't the first to do it – we've certainly done it a number of times – but is it something that probably as AFL clubs we'd lean to? Probably not.
"But it's part and parcel of our industry at the moment and so if you're not in it, you're not involved. We've got to make sure that we, like other clubs, will entertain players and they'll entertain our players – that's the nature of the land, and that's the way it goes."
North is one of the frontrunners for the Brownlow Medal favourite's services if he leaves Tigerland.
The Roos are reportedly willing to part with $1.5 million a season for seven years, or $10.5 million in total, to lure him. Richmond's best offer could come up $2.8 million short over the duration of the deal.
Martin's high-profile manager Ralph Carr hinted his client could make an announcement on his playing future as early as the pre-finals bye week. But that would likely be only if he was staying at Punt Rd.
"I really enjoy the free agency aspect. I think players, after they've been here a period of time, deserve that right, and I'm here to support Dustin one way or the other," Hardwick said.
"I love the kid, I've loved him the first day he came into the club and I'll continue to love him regardless of what happens here.
"He's been a fantastic player for me. All I'm really looking forward to him doing, and he's done on a weekly basis, is playing his best footy for me … (that is) going to continue, I'm sure."
Hardwick said the constant speculation about Martin was not distracting him or his biggest star, who is heading to New Zealand next week to see his father.
"That's outside noise. We understand it, it's reported on all the time, but it doesn't affect me one way or the other (and) it doesn't affect Dustin one way or the other," he said.
"As soon as he crosses that white line – look out."