But for Richmond Football Club AFL fans, that one word represents far, far more. For the better part of the past decade, it’s a word yelled from seats right around the mighty MCG, fists in the air, as Dustin Martin, the heavily tattooed 29 year old from Castlemaine in Victoria, with whakapapa to Ngāti Maru iwi through his father Shane (more on him later), does things that few other AFL players of his generation can do. He’s infamous for the “Don’t Argue” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABJMVdTWqro, a fend off with his left hand extended, effortlessly pushing opposition players to the ground as he clutches the Sherrin football to his chest, running towards those strange four upright posts with no crossbar, and kicking yet another impossible goal.
Dusty is famous for other reasons. The Dusty haircut. The tattoos Ngāti Maru and Whetu Maru (his marae) are the most prominent, on his neck. There have been fines for unprofessional conduct, and he made the news for leaving his car at the MCG for nearly a month after the 2019 Grand Final while he headed overseas .
He’s popped up on Serena Williams’ Instagram feed, hanging out with her and her husband Alexis Ohanian in the Maldives . There was an alleged incident involving a woman being threatened with chopsticks in a restaurant. He’s an ambassador (read underwear model) for Bonds.
In 2017, Richmond hadn’t won a premiership for 37 years, a tragic drought for one of the oldest and proudest AFL clubs. They had started making finals from 2013, and in 2015 were a real contender, only to have a horror season in 2016. Hope turned to desperation for fans. There’s a joke that Richmond fans put their plastic membership cards in the microwave and melt them when the team does badly.
Microwave sales spiked in inner city Melbourne in 2016. The 2017 season started without much optimism. And to add to the desperation, Dusty’s contract was up for renewal. He was courted, with multi-million dollar offers, by other clubs, notably North Melbourne and the Greater Western Sydney Giants. Fans, fellow players, coaches and club officials all spent the season on tenterhooks. And all the while, Dusty turned up for the Tiges in yellow and black, week after week, the best player of the home and away season. He stayed loyal to Richmond, signing a new seven year contract as a “Tiger for Life” in the week before finals.
He went on to win the Brownlow Medal, for the best player of the competition . The celebration of his fellow players, his coach Damien “Dimma” Hardwick, and the fans, the Tiger Army, was every bit as exuberant as Dusty’s acceptance was uncomfortable. He doesn’t like the spotlight, except when he crosses that white boundary line and puts on a show.
He has good reason to want to stay anonymous. He is one of the AFL’s most recognisable players. He’s in a small group of people known only by his single word nickname. Shane “Kiwi” Martin, Dusty’s father, was deported from Australia back to New Zealand in 2016, due to his senior position in the Rebels Motorcycle Club. He is a huge part of Dusty’s life, and whenever Richmond had a bye week, Dusty would be on the plane to Auckland, to spend time with his dad.
Shane Martin has not been present to see Dusty’s greatest on-field successes, and this year’s travel restrictions must have been particularly difficult for both father and son.
Not yet 30 years of age, Dusty has matured immeasurably since he made his AFL debut in 2010. He is best friends with the Richmond captain, Trent Cotchin, a straight-out-of-central-casting player – wide smile, clean-cut, wholesome, family man.
Dusty pops up in photos with Cotchin’s kids, who call him “Uncle ‘usty”. He has been open, as much as he ever is, about anxiety and depression in the aftermath of his and Richmond’s most successful season, 2017. Dusty won the Brownlow Medal and then the Norm Smith Medal for the best on ground player in the Grand Final, oh, which Richmond won, breaking a 36 year drought. He won two of those three medals (the Norm Smith and the premiership) again in 2019, stating that the Premiership win with his teammates, was the only one that really mattered. He has worked with sports psychologist Emma Murray, practicing mindfulness and visualisation to improve his performance. He opened his home to Marlion Pickett when he was drafted to Richmond in 2019.
2020 has not been an easy year. Not for Australians, certainly not for Victorians in various stages of lockdowns for months, not for the 100,000 strong Tiger Army, paid-up members of the Richmond Football Club. The MCG has lain empty for months. AFL players have been sequestered in hubs. Richmond, the 2019 Premiers, moved to Queensland, initially for 30 days, and ended up spending over 100 days away from home. There were the hardly surprising protocol breaches, one involving the wife of captain Trent Cotchin .
Slowly but surely though, the Tigers put together performances that culminated in a third Grand Final appearance in four years. A first Grand Final at the Gabba in Brisbane, with a token piece of turf from the MCG there for sentimentality and corporate sponsorship
Dusty was the Norm Smith Medallist for a third time in 2020. But he left the Gabba with the most important medal around his neck: the 2020 AFL Premiership. He singlehandedly turned Richmond’s fortunes after the half-time break in the Grand Final, when they were trailing Geelong by 20-35. He has entered the AFL history books, and there will almost certainly be a statue of him at Richmond’s Punt Road Oval, if not at the MCG, but that won’t matter to him. He’s unlikely to head off on of his infamous end of year trips, to Bali or Vegas. He may be able to spend some time with his father in New Zealand. Whatever he does, he deserves a well-earned break.
And Tigers’ fans will have gone to sleep, 2020 Premiership in the trophy cabinet, dreaming of packing out the ‘G in 2021, dressed in yellow and black, and rising as one to yell “DUSTY!”.
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