Richmond star Dustin Martin has enjoyed the first celebration of what shapes as a defining September by being crowned the AFL Players' Association most valuable player.
Martin claimed the Leigh Matthews Trophy on Tuesday night with 1333 votes, ahead of last year's MVP Patrick Dangerfield (776) and Greater Western Sydney midfielder Josh Kelly (416). Adelaide midfielder Rory Sloane (267) and Sydney superstar Lance Franklin (215) completed the top five.
Fresh from the Tigers' qualifying final win over Geelong, Martin was presented with his trophy by Leigh Matthews in front of more than 450 people at Melbourne's Peninsula at Docklands.
"It's an honour to be named MVP by the guys I play with and against every week. I'm incredibly humbled by this," Martin said.
"To earn the respect of your peers is very humbling.
"I think all of the guys who got nominated are champions, so I'm very humbled.
"It's a bit surreal ... you've got to pinch yourself. I've just kept working hard on all areas of my game ... I've said before, you just try and improve each year that you're in the competition."
Martin showed great poise and maturity this season in the face of a contract stand-off and the stress of having his father, Shane, barred from the country, the New Zealander having had his visa revoked by the Australian government in 2016. Martin eventually agreed to a multimillion-dollar, seven-year deal to remain at Punt Road.
"It has been pretty stressful, although I might not show it, but I'm just glad all that [contract] stuff is out of the way and I'm just excited for the next couple of weeks," he said.
AFLPA chief executive Paul Marsh said Martin's performances had been integral in his team's top-four finish.
"In a year where Dusty has dealt with a lot of off-field noise, he's managed to not only block it out but take his game to another level, wowing us all with his power, skill and poise under pressure," he said.
"Dusty has performed at an incredibly high standard week in, week out this season and being named the most valuable player by his peers will no doubt be one of many awards he receives for his exceptional year."
Martin's standout season was highlighted by his nomination for MVP of the month in each voting period.
Tigers coach Damien Hardwick has praised Martin's maturity this year, reinforcing why the Tigers were delighted to have him sign a seven-year, multimillion-dollar contract.
"What I love about him is his maturity level now has increased tenfold. He looks after himself as good as I've seen from an elite athlete. He boxes twice a week, he does yoga, he does all these things which I never thought I'd see him do," he said.
"But he knows that this is what he has to do to stay at the top of his game and that's why we're really happy as a footy club to have him for seven years because he does everything right, plays the game incredibly hard."
As was the case when Dangerfield won the MVP last year, Martin, 26, is also the favourite to claim the Brownlow Medal. He was instrumental in the Tigers' victory on Friday night and could yet have to his credit a premiership medallion and Norm Smith Medal.
Dangerfield has had another strong campaign but cannot claim back-to-back Brownlows because he was suspended for his controversial tackle on Carlton's Matthew Kreuzer.
Kelly, debating whether to accept the riches on offer from Melbourne clubs, has also had a breakout season, but Martin's match-winning ways could have him poll the maximum three votes at least eight times in the Brownlow count.
Sloane, who hopes to be fit in time for the Crows' preliminary final, was named as the Robert Rose most courageous player.
Essendon's Andrew McGrath, already the Rising Star winner, had his impressive campaign further rewarded by being named best first-year player ahead of Port Adelaide's Sam Powell-Pepper.
Crows skipper Taylor Walker was voted best captain, ahead of Sydney's Josh Kennedy and Geelong's Joel Selwood.
1 Dustin Martin - 1333 votes
2 Patrick Dangerfield - 776 votes
3 Josh Kelly - 416 votes
4 Rory Sloane - 267 votes
5 Lance Franklin - 215 votes
1 Rory Sloane - 188 votes
2 Joel Selwood - 133 votes
3 Callan Ward - 89 votes
4 Luke Hodge - 77 votes
5 Dale Morris - 71 votes
BEST FIRST YEAR
1 Andrew McGrath - 274 votes
2 Sam Powell-Pepper - 250 votes
3 Sam Petrevski-Seton - 48 votes
4 Will Hayward - 35 votes
5 Tom Stewart - 25 votes
1 Taylor Walker - 140 votes
2 Josh P Kennedy - 125 votes
3 Joel Selwood - 100 votes
4 Jarryd Roughead - 87 votes
5 Bob Murphy - 46 votes