IT TOOK two seconds. After completing the most dominant season by a midfielder in modern football last year, Dustin Martin didn't have to wait long for his first touch of 2018.
As he ran onto the MCG for the first time since Richmond's euphoric premiership win over Adelaide, Martin stood at the opening centre bounce against Carlton on Thursday night, copped a friendly bump from Blues opponent Patrick Cripps and then read ruckman Toby Nankervis' tap perfectly.
Within a flash, he had taken control of the ball, had a couple of steps and sent it deep inside Richmond's forward 50. He was off and running. Whether he will be stopped remains to be seen.
It was the opening game of last season that kick started Martin to his spectacular campaign, when he gathered 34 disposals and kicked four goals against the Blues. It was also when he picked up the first of his 11 three-vote Brownlow Medal performances.
This one wasn't quite as scintillating from Martin, but it was no dusty start for the 26-year-old either. The Tigers conceded the first five goals of the game, but it was Martin who helped turn things back his side's way late in the first quarter with a powerful one-on-one mark against Jacob Weitering and a precision 55-metre pass off one step to Jacob Townsend, who converted his shot.
The special passages of play continued. In the second quarter, as the ball bobbled around half-forward for the Tigers, Martin gathered and fell to the ground. He remained composed as he did, spotting Cotchin in the corner of his eye and hitting him with a sweeping handball into space.
As the Tigers started the second half four points down, Martin shaped as the match-winner. And as they entered the final term four points up, he still seemed the Tiger most likely to drag his side to an important round one win.
But the Blues kept on coming, and made it hard for Martin to dominate. There was more hustle and bustle to his game than dashing run, and meanwhile Carlton was unearthing its own certified 'Next Big Thing' as Charlie Curnow kicked five goals in a breathtaking display.
Martin was in no mood to be outshone, though. Eight minutes into the last term, and with the Tigers leading by a point but looking shaky, Martin had his moment. He cleanly collected the ball in the forward 50, sprinted through one tackle attempt and past another, before kicking an on-the-run checkside goal.
The Tigers booted the next three majors to all but seal their 26-point win, and Martin finished with a team-high 32 disposals, six clearances, six inside-50s and a big say on the result.
Not that any of that was surprising. After his Brownlow Medal, Norm Smith Medal, premiership, best and fairest and AFLPA MVP award last year, Martin enters this season not only as the leading player of the competition but also the biggest star in the country's biggest game.
Every move he makes and every game he dominates – and even the game or two he might be quiet – will attract attention and comment. Not that it will bother him, for that is one of Martin's contrasting qualities: he is as identifiable as he is introverted.
On the field, there are other idiosyncrasies. He is imposing without being aggressive, bold without being brazen, and imitable (think of the 'Don't argues' practiced at local clubs around Australia each week) but one of a kind with his imprint on a game.
And if Thursday night is any indication, he looks determined to do it all again in 2018.