The AFL’s most-private footballer became its public face on Saturday, when Dustin Martin capped arguably the greatest individual season with a history-making Norm Smith medal.
Martin was best afield in Richmond’s 48-point victory over Adelaide at the MCG, where all but one of the five judges awarded him the maximum three votes.
No footballer had won the Brownlow and Norm Smith medals in the same year. Martin also earned the Leigh Matthews trophy, having topped the charts at the peer-voted AFLPA awards night.
Matthews, one of the sport’s most-respected voices and perhaps the greatest player in VFL/AFL history, recently suggested no individual had produced a better season than Martin’s 2017.
Nobody of note has put forward a counter-argument.
“By a million,” Martin said, when asked if winning the Norm Smith was better than the Brownlow.
“It was a bit surreal and just a bit of a blur, but now it feels real and it feels bloody awesome.
“I don’t think you can (top this).
“I’ve got so many important people in my life who have helped me get here. It’s too long to reel them all off.”
Martin, who was raised in Castlemaine but moved to Sydney and drove forklifts at his father’s business after dropping out of school in Year 9, was a man of few words on stage.
“Yellow and black,” the neck-tattooed superstar screamed at the end of a short acceptance speech.
Martin celebrated with Dane Swan in the rooms and hugged Jake King during a lap of honour – both colourful characters among his many mentors.
The 26-year-old talked with father Shane, who remains banned from entering Australia because of his links with a bikie group, shortly after the siren.
“Spoke to him on radio,” Martin said.
“I haven’t been near my phone. He sounded like he’d had 40 beers, so I’ve got to catch up.”
Martin has been a man of few words throughout his 178-game career, shunning the spotlight at every chance, but there were signs of him coming out of his shell while sitting alongside coach Damien Hardwick at Saturday’s media conference.
“On the left quad, big one, big tiger … Dimma said he’s going to get one too,” Martin joked, when asked about a premiership tattoo.
And his plans for the night?
“Plenty of these,” Martin quipped, holding up a beer.
Hardwick and captain Trent Cotchin were full of praise for the match-winner.
“He was incredible. He’s just so hard to stop,” Hardwick said.
“This season ranks as the most special I’ve seen from a player – no doubt.”
Cotchin described Martin as a special person.
“He deserves all the accolades. He’s worked bloody hard for it,” Cotchin said.
Martin polled 13 Norm Smith votes, with Bachar Houli ranking second on 10.
Martin’s performance will also result in him receiving the Gary Ayres medal for best performer in the finals series, in addition to the swag of media awards he’s already collected.
NORM SMITH MEDAL VOTES:
13 — Dustin Martin
10 — Bachar Houli
2 — Alex Rance
2 — Shane Edwards
2 — Dion Prestia
1 — Jack Graham