Dustin Martin was all smiles after his return to football. Picture: Michael Klein
Dustin Martin was all smiles after his return to football. Picture: Michael Klein

Has Dusty reached unstoppable status?

THE loneliest place on a football field used to be playing loose in front of Tony Lockett or Jonathan Brown.

Now, as fearsome Lions legend Brown remarked on Saturday afternoon, it is standing alongside Dustin Martin deep in Richmond's attacking arc.

Martin gave another awesome reminder of his talents against Essendon, with the Brownlow Medallist as close to unstoppable as any player in recent memory.

Rivals can't tackle him, can't tag him, can't limit him as a midfielder.

But it is the latest string to his bow - isolated as a deep forward - that will have given rival coaches nightmares over summer.

Don Pyke gave Martin the entire forward 50 against Luke Brown minutes before half time in the Grand Final and Martin took full toll.

Suddenly Richmond had a 10-point lead and never looked back from there.

Dustin Martin looked great in the JLT clash with Essendon. Picture: Michael Klein
Dustin Martin looked great in the JLT clash with Essendon. Picture: Michael Klein

"The last thing you want to do in footy is get caught in a one-on-one inside 50 with Dusty,'' said Lions legend Brown.

"The worst feeling in the world for a defender last year would have been Luke Brown in the Grand Final just before half time when he was one-on-one with him."

So what strategies will opponents use to limit Martin's effectiveness this year?

USE YOUR BEST DEFENDER

As Champion Data says in its AFL Prospectus, Martin (37 goals in 2017) was the best one-on-one forward last year.

He won 54 per cent of one-on-one contests, nine per cent more than any other player with 50 contests (Patrick Dangerfield had only 37 of them).

According to former senior AFL coach and leading football analyst Robert Shaw, you don't waste your second defender on Martin any more.

"If he was playing against Richmond, Alex Rance would have to go to him. We have seen it before. He goes forward and clubs are so slow to react to him,'' he said.

"So if he plays Essendon, he has to get Hurley with his pace and physical size. If it's Adelaide, it's Daniel Talia. If it's Hawthorn its James Frawley. He can't get picked up by a half back flanker or your second tall.

"And if your number one defender has to go to him, it creates the problem - who is the number one defender being moved off?"

 

 

 

BASH HIM

Tagging Martin didn't work last year, not that many clubs tried that hard.

Cam Guthrie wasn't doing a bad job before a calf injury in the qualifying final, with Martin exploding thereafter to finish with 28 possessions, nine inside-50s, seven tackles and six score assists.

Only five teams put more than 40 minutes into Martin last year and none of those players, Ed Curnow and Matt Kennedy included, kept him below his usual rate.

But Brisbane did keep him to one of his few quiet games in Round 4, physically buffeting him and rotating a trio of players who paid close physical attention.

Martin had just 16 possessions on Nick Robertson, Dayne Zorko and defender Darcy Gardiner as the Lions went at him hard.

 

SuperCoach 2018

 

Shaw remains interested in the promise of that approach.

"You won't physically intimidate him but genuine and focused physical niggle will help.

"You can't team-defend Dustin Martin, it just gives him space.

"But teams might have success with a disciplined and tough niggler.

"If you are accountable as a team, Essendon might use (Dyson) Heppell for 70 minutes, Zach Merrett for seven, (Brendon) Goddard for seven and someone for the rest.

"You might not beat him individually but you can win the position and use four players who can also go the other way."

Dustin Martin and Nick Robertson clashed last season. Picture: AAP images
Dustin Martin and Nick Robertson clashed last season. Picture: AAP images

LOSE THE EGO TACKLING HIM

Martin broke 83 tackles for the year, with Patrick Dangerfield the next best with 26.

Shaw says allowing Martin to dish off the ball by tackling him lower is much preferred to an unsuccessful ball-and-all tackle.

"Sheeds (Kevin Sheedy) used to have signs up in our rooms saying "Tackle the Hips".

"He does that fend-off so well but if you look at 100 examples, 99 of the players look to tackle him high.

"Tackle where you look. If you look at his shoulders and arms, he pushes you off and is free to run.

"If you tackle him under his arms and go at his hips, he is going to get the handball away but he won't explode out of congestion and kick it 65 metres to a teammate.

"Would you rather have him on his arse and handballing to someone or breaking the tackle?"

Dustin Martin has the best ‘don’t argue’ in the game. Picture: Getty Images
Dustin Martin has the best ‘don’t argue’ in the game. Picture: Getty Images

CAN HE GET BETTER?

According to his chief executive Brendon Gale, he might not win the awards, but he can be even more damaging for his side.

Last year he got fitter - for only the second time in his career he had more ranking points in the second half of games than the first.

And he won 62 per cent of his touches in the forward half, that statistic soaring from just 38 per cent in 2016.

"He has set the bar pretty high, hasn't he?" says Gale of Martin.

"I think he can play to an equally high standard and I think he can get better. That doesn't mean he wins all the medals and trophies.

"But he's a remarkably mature footballer who can focus contest by contest, quarter by quarter.

"I have got full confidence in his ability to back it up. He has got enormous upside."



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