Dustin Martin in action during round seven, 2011, and (inset) the cover of the AFL Record in round seven, 2011. Pictures: AFL Photos

In May 2011, Dustin Martin granted a rare one-on-one interview to Callum Twomey for the AFL Record and AFL.com.au. As the Richmond superstar prepares for his 300th game on Saturday, take a look back at Martin's words as a 19-year-old in his second AFL season, just coming to terms with the unrelenting glare of the football spotlight. 

IN THE past two weeks, we have seen Dustin Martin, in his inimitable way, dominate games of football like few players are capable of doing. But for all the acclaim - he seems to be everyone's new favourite player - Martin doesn't care for the attention.

"I don't really care about what other people think," he said last week when we met at Richmond's ME Bank Centre. "It's not something I think about too much."

It's an attitude reflected in his football. He isn't intimidated by anyone, nor easily flustered or concerned by how he's viewed.


Martin's football features some of the best elements of the Australian game - aggression, skill, strength and class - flowing through it, but his style is inconsistent with his personality.

The sharp haircut - it's shaved at the front and sides and spiked at the back - and the numerous tattoos, particularly the two on his neck, would give one the impression of Martin being an extrovert.

As would the way he has come into an AFL club, finishing fourth in Richmond's best and fairest in his first season, and quickly becoming one of the Tigers' most important players.

However, the 19-year-old is a series of contradictions rolled into one brilliant, bustling and damaging footballer: a walking, barely-talking, 'don't-arguing' star of the competition, who is as reserved off the field as he is assertive on it.

When the AFL Record met Martin, wearing a Tigers training singlet, striped tracksuit pants and a pair of thongs, he was the man of the moment.

The football world was abuzz with Martin after his 33-possession and four-goal game against North Melbourne. (He followed up with 35 touches and one goal against the Brisbane Lions last week, giving him consecutive 10/10 votes in the AFL Coaches' Association's Champion Player award.) Martin hardly seems interested in all the fuss, economical in his words as he plays down the hype.

He gives a typical teenager's shrug of the shoulders, and half-smile when the fanfare is brought up. It's not something that worries Martin. Not much does.

In football terms, he's also something of a new-age sensation. In the modern game of athleticism, Martin is a pure footballer, who has played his first 27 games mostly on instinct. His enthusiasm for the game has been integral.

"I've always loved footy," Martin says. "I started playing when I was six or seven and I was always out in the backyard kicking the footy. I just loved it.

"I started playing under-10s when I was about that age and they wouldn't let me play because I was too young. I had to sit out a year, but I've always enjoyed playing."

Dustin Martin celebrates a goal during Richmond's clash with Brisbane in round six, 2011. Picture: AFL Photos

Martin's progression to emerging AFL star has not been without hurdles.

After dropping out of Castlemaine High School as a 15-year-old in year nine - a decision he now regrets - Martin moved to Sydney where his dad, Shane, and Shane's girlfriend, were living. Dustin was given a job working at Shane's transport business, loading trucks and working in the administration side of the business.

While in Sydney, Martin played football for Campbelltown under-18s, having started with the club's under-16s.

Martin tossed up the idea of following his father and trying rugby league - Shane, a Maori who arrived in Australia when he was 21, was a winger for his local rugby league team in New Zealand  - but pulled out of a game at the last-minute.

"I went away from footy a little bit up there. I was playing, but it wasn't as serious," he says from the comforts of the Richmond media manager's office in the club's recently renovated Punt Road headquarters.

"I was up there working 12-hour shifts in a boring job, so it definitely made me realise that I should give it a real crack at making it to the AFL," he recalls.

His return to Castlemaine - the central Victorian town about a two-hour drive from Melbourne - kick-started that ambition.

Dustin Martin and his father Shane at the 2010 AFL Rising Star award ceremony. Picture: AFL Photos

In 2008, he played for Castlemaine's senior side as a 16-year-old. When he first arrived at the club, senior coach Jamie Elliott, who played 58 games for Fitzroy, Richmond and St Kilda in the 1990s, couldn't get around him in one-on-one drills.

The way Martin moved his hips, the way he stood over the ball, in control, with balance and time and strength, was something Elliott hadn't witnessed before.

But, for Martin, it was just something he did without too much thought.

"Footy came naturally for him," Elliott suggests, "but he didn't really know it."

His form in the Castlemaine seniors was outstanding, but his footy was played with intuition, not necessarily deliberation. He knew he was good, but he didn't really know how to get better, how to take his game to a standard befitting a potential draftee.

In one game, Martin ran down the wing, moved up to half-forward and tried to kick a boomerang goal from outside 50. Predictably, the shot missed.

At quarter-time, Elliott pulled Martin aside. "You've got people here looking at you," he told Martin. "In that situation, why don't you use your left foot?"

The next time, from the same position on the ground, he kicked a goal on his left foot. "He didn't realise how good he was," Elliott says.

Despite his form for Castlemaine, Martin was still being overlooked by local TAC Cup team, the Bendigo Pioneers.

Elliott would pick him up from Bendigo for training, where Martin was doing a personal training course, and all Martin would talk about was football. How he could get better. How the side was going. What extra work he could be doing.

The next phase of his development was swift, though not quite as quick as Martin describes it - "I got a few games in the TAC Cup at the end of 2008, had a full pre-season, a good year in 2009, then was lucky enough to get drafted" - but that's the general gist.

Four games at the end of 2008 for the Pioneers gave him a taste for what was required. A full pre-season with the club helped him refine his game and, going into 2009, he really started to think about how to play, and what was required to take it to the next level.

It quickly became his life, absorbing his every thought and every action. He would approach Pioneers coach Mark Ellis after games looking for feedback, and was just as comfortable taking in positives as negatives. The structure of the TAC Cup system gave him an insight into being a professional footballer.

"It's a good system. Obviously, you're not training every day, but we went interstate a couple of times and you prepare similar to the way you do in the AFL, so it was a really good learning experience for me," he says.

His 2009 season was a culmination of several years of focusing on the game. Once he dropped out of school, Martin knew he could make a life through football. That year, after a stunning season with the Pioneers (he was rewarded with Vic Country and All-Australian under-18 selection), Martin joined the Tigers when the club selected him with pick No. 3 in the NAB AFL Draft.

Dustin Martin and Damien Hardwick at the 2009 AFL Draft. Picture: AFL Photos

Martin's football is full of bold statements of intent, dominant bursts of precise skill and powerful acts of muscle, all with destructive levels of effectiveness.

He's creative, he brings others into the game when he wants to and takes the initiative when needed.

Last year, he played 21 games, averaged 20 disposals and kicked 11 goals.

Statistics alone suggest it was an impressive debut year, but his influence was less about numbers and more about impact.

Martin's uncompromising approach at the ball and contest may have cost him a chance of winning the NAB AFL Rising Star award - he received a reprimand for making front-on contact with Sydney's Josh Kennedy - but it endeared him to a legion of Richmond fans starved of success.

"It was amazing, it was so exciting," he says of his first year. "I was confident I could play a lot of games, but I just kept playing my role and I was lucky enough to get a full year pretty much."

Asked what surprised him in his first season of elite football, Martin says: "Just everything," before adding, "All aspects of the game surprised me. You've got to be so fit, and I am feeling a lot fitter now than last year after having a full pre-season. Your body just cops it every week so you've really got to be good with your recovery.

"Fitness is a massive one, though. If you're confident you have the ability, you've just got to be fit to use it. You have to keep working on your skills, your kicking, handballing, ground balls, tackling and every part of your game."

Dustin Martin lines up a shot at goal at Richmond training in April 2011. Picture: AFL Photos

His ability to win clearances is a result of his teammates' input - "Nathan Foley really encourages us to do as many drills as possible to improve that area" - and he deflects talk about his strength as a decision-maker, saying having a team structure in place makes it easy to do the "right" thing. Clearly, Martin doesn't need the adulation to thrive.

"Our game-plan is very predictable, so, when I've got the ball in my hands, we know what we're going to do. It makes it a lot easier to make the right decision when we know the game-plan well," he says.

Despite his capacity to make an instant impact, Martin struggled with aspects of the game. One of his specialties is clearance work at stoppages, but early on he was often found flat-footed.

Towards the end of the year, he improved, but on a couple of occasions early last year, during games, Martin would ask veteran ruckman Troy Simmonds which way Richmond was kicking.

Simmonds would tell him, then help the first-year player learn the team 'structures' by pointing to which side of the contest he should be standing, be it a ball-up or throw-in, and get Martin to position himself properly. Then Martin would go in, win the ball and kick it to a teammate's advantage. "That's him," Simmonds says. "Tell him to do it, and he'll do it."

Dustin Martin breaks clear of a stoppage during Richmond's clash with West Coast in round 12, 2010. Picture: AFL Photos

Martin credits his stunning early-season form in 2011 to improved fitness, another chink in his old-fashioned game that has improved in an elite environment.

Coach Damien Hardwick gave him a spray for returning to training unfit, but it gave Martin an understanding that footy was an all-year profession. He enjoys a feed - he's still bugging Richmond's former media manager Jude Donnelly for a meal she owes him - but he knows he can't let himself go.

"It worked as a bit of a driver for me and I was able to go out and show my coaches and teammates that I didn't want to go into the season unfit. It made me train a lot harder," he says.

"I also changed my eating habits - not eating as much, to try to keep the weight off. I've just been trying to stick to a reasonable weight as it really helps on game-day."

The way Martin approaches and plays his football, as well as the way he presents himself, might make you think he's an individual in a team framework.

That view might be enhanced when watching him at a typical training session, how he's the last to a group, how he stands at the back, how he barely speaks to anyone and while the rest of the squad grabs a drink, he goes to the fence and wipes his face with a towel he has left there.

But it's just how he is. Focused, intense and, all the while, almost silent. It's easy to see why Tigers assistant coach Justin Leppitsch isn't worried about Martin getting "carried away with much" after his recent good form.

Nevertheless, people are expecting big things of Martin. Along with Trent Cotchin, Jack Riewoldt and Brett Deledio, Martin represents the new generation of Tiger: ruthless and hungry.

When he hears Richmond CEO Brendon Gale speak of success at the club, and how important this group of players is to bringing glory back to Punt Road, Martin listens and reflects on Gale's words. "He works so hard, as does everyone else in the footy club, to point us in the right direction," Martin says.

He sees Matthew Richardson, who played 282 games for the club but only three finals.

Martin isn't fussed by much; coaches tell him to "not put my head down and worry about it if I make a mistake", but the suggestion he would want more success than Richardson tasted is met with obvious appeal. An appeal - and quiet ambition - which drives his football.

"That's what we play footy for, to win premierships, so we definitely want to play in and win as many finals as we can," he says. "We all believe we're going in the right direction. It's very exciting."

Dustin Martin

Born: June 26, 1991
Recruited from: Castlemaine/Bendigo U18
Debut: Round 1, 2010 v Carlton
Height: 187cm  Weight: 86kg
Games: 27  Goals: 21
Player honours: NAB AFL Rising Star nominee 2010
Brownlow Medal: career votes 6