A RELIEVED Dustin Martin has given up more than $2million to re-sign with Richmond for another seven seasons in the richest deal in the Tigers' history.
AFL.com.au was told by North Melbourne on Thursday it was out of the race for Martin's signature, leaving the Tigers to announce Martin would be staying at Punt Road Oval.
Martin spoke to The Footy Show on Thursday night and said he twice met with North Melbourne players and staff.
"I think North's the most public (suitor). I met with the coach and just the leadership group. I really appreciate those guys for taking the time and showing interest," he said.
"I kind of felt like I was cheating on a girlfriend or something. It was weird."
The 26-year-old was weighing up a seven-year deal worth around $1.1m a season with the Tigers, or the Kangaroos' offer of $1.5m a year over the same duration.
But on Thursday the Tigers reportedly upped their offer to $1.3m a season, and a deal was clinched.
Martin's manager Ralph Carr said the decision cost the superstar plenty.
"Dusty gave up over $2million to stay. I think we've made the right decision," Carr said.
North's offer was compelling, and duly considered by Martin's management.
"I certainly thought about it. It was a stressful year, believe it or not. I was kind wrestling with myself," Martin said.
He was happy to have the deal done as the Tigers bid to win their first final since 2001.
"It's a massive relief, to be honest. I'm sick of people talking about it. I don't like being the centre of attention so people can find something else to talk about now," Martin said.
Martin flew to New Zealand with his manager this week to visit his father Shane and stayed in a hotel room as he "put it all out on the table" before coming to a decision within a couple of hours.
"You've got to make the most out of your football career while you can, so with Ralph and my dad and people close to me, there was plenty of conversations, but in the end, Richmond's home to me," Martin said.
Ultimately, it was the "great relationships" he had with the likes of captain Trent Cotchin that kept him at Punt Road Oval, and Martin paid tribute to his coach Damien Hardwick.
"He's just let me be this year and let me play footy. He's been great ever since I got to the football club and I love him," Martin said.
Richmond's fanatical supporters also helped convince Martin to stay.
"They're fantastic. Even (last) weekend, there was 70-odd thousand there (against St Kilda). It was funny, I remember I kicked a goal and did something else and they were going crazy and I just thought 'Jeez, how good's this?'. That definitely had an impact," he said.
The white-hot favourite to take out his first Brownlow Medal, Martin couldn't deny it was on his mind, having spoken to the current holder Patrick Dangerfield at the All Australian awards about it on Wednesday night.
"It's only human to think about those kind of things. I actually had a good chat with 'Danger' about it last night and he said 'Just embrace it and enjoy it'," Martin said.
Martin's blockbuster signing ends one of the long-running sagas of the 2017 season that started when the midfielder announced through his management in January he would not be deciding on his future until the end of the season.
A restricted free agent, Martin made it known he wanted to spend the season considering his options, and his manager has stood firm in not finalising any deal until now.
Martin has put the raging speculation on his future to the side to produce a career-best season that should see him rewarded with a second consecutive Jack Dyer Medal as the Tigers' club champion.
Martin's contract negotiations have been handled this season by Carr, the Tigers' list manager Dan Richardson and football boss Neil Balme.
For more than seven months the group has remained tight-lipped on the state of those negotiations as clubs – most notably North Melbourne – were linked to the explosive midfielder.
The Kangaroos were an aggressive bidder for both Martin and GWS midfielder Josh Kelly, and the club was reportedly in a position to offer Martin approximately $2m more than the Tigers over the course of seven years.
But Martin spurned that offer to stay at at Richmond in a deal that is likely to see him finish his career with the club that drafted him with pick No.3 in the 2009 NAB AFL Draft.
He has produced a magnificent season that has seen him win 40 possessions in a game twice and average career-high inside 50s (6.2), clearances (6.5) and contested possessions (14.2).
With every starring performance this season his value has grown, forcing Richmond to improve its offer as rivals circled.
Ultimately, however, Martin to remain loyal to the Tigers, who have worked overtime to facilitate regular trips to New Zealand for Martin to visit his deported father.
As coach Damien Hardwick said at the start of the season: "Dustin’s been a great player for the Richmond footy club and the Richmond footy club’s been great for Dustin".
DUSTIN MARTIN'S CAREER AT A GLANCE
- Born: June 26, 1991 (age 26)
- Draft: First-round selection, 3rd overall, 2009 draft
- Debut: Round one, 2010 - Richmond 9.10 (64) def by Carlton 18.12 (120) at the MCG. Martin, wearing the No.36 guernsey, had 18 possessions
- Games: 175
- Honours: Richmond best-and-fairest winner 2016; 3rd Brownlow Medal 2016; All-Australian 2016; All-Australian nominee 2014, 2015; Rising Star nominee 2010
- Career goals: 182 (Career high: five goals v Brisbane, round 13, 2011)
- Career-high possessions: 43 v Essendon, round 17, 2016