By Luke West
Updated November 7 2012 - 3:06am, first published November 25 2009 - 10:17am
RICHMOND-BOUND: Bendigo Pioneers star Dustin Martin. Picture: BILL CONROY
RICHMOND-BOUND: Bendigo Pioneers star Dustin Martin. Picture: BILL CONROY

FOR as long as he can remember, all Dustin Martin has wanted to do is play AFL football.From the time he first pulled on the guernsey for the Campbells Creek Junior Football Club in the under-10s, to this year with the Bendigo Pioneers in the TAC Cup, that dream has never wavered.Tonight, Martin’s dream of making an AFL list is set to become a reality at the national draft.And according to all the pre-draft speculation of the past month, it seems a given the club Martin will join is Richmond, with the Tigers expected to take the highly-talented midfielder with pick No.3.For Martin, tonight can’t come around quick enough.He has garnered enormous media attention in the metropolitan papers in recent weeks with interviews and photo shoots, but all the quietly-spoken 18-year-old wants to do now is just get out on the training track at wherever it is he is selected and let his football do the talking.“Footy is my life; I just love it and it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,’’ Martin told The Advertiser yesterday.“And when you get to the AFL, that’s what footy is - it becomes your life by training every day, and that’s the way I want to live.“I can’t wait and hopefully, I’ll get an opportunity.’’Barring any major surprise, Richmond will tonight be Martin’s AFL club, with the Tigers poised to pick him after Melbourne uses its No.1 and 2 selections on Tom Scully and Jack Trengrove, who, like Martin, have become the faces in the draft lead-up.“It hasn’t been too bad; it doesn’t bother me too much,’’ Martin answered when asked how he has handled all the media hype that has surrounded him in the past month.“You just do what you’ve got to do. I don’t get a big head or anything like that, I just keep going about my business.“Hopefully, I can get picked up and then the hard work will all really begin.“I’ve got a long way to go and just can’t wait to, hopefully, get an opportunity and work as hard as I can.’’The Martin story has been well documented by several pre-draft profile stories in the past month.As a teenager growing up in Castlemaine, school and he never agreed, so in 2007 Martin moved to Sydney and worked for his dad, Shane, while also playing with the Campbelltown Blues under-18 side.After a year in Sydney, Martin returned to Castlemaine, where in 2008 he lined up for the Magpies’ senior team in the Bendigo Football League, and took the competition by storm with his speed, penetrating kicking and ability to bust packs open with his fierce attack on the contest. “Playing that year with Castlemaine against a lot of bigger bodies was really good for me in getting used to the tougher contested ball,’’ said Martin, who has been managed by Ricky Nixon’s Flying Start since the start of the year.“I had a lot of good teammates that year, a good coach (Jamie Elliott), and playing that year of senior footy was a really good grounding.’’It was an ordinary season for Castlemaine, with the Magpies winning just five of 16 games, but Martin was the clear shining light.Despite missing the last two games when finally called up to the Pioneers, Martin won the Magpies’ goalkicking with 22 - of which 11 came in his final two games against Kyneton and eventual grand finalist Golden Square - and was a hands-down winner of the league’s CVGT-backed Rising Star award.One of the obvious attributes from his first senior game for the Magpies in 2008 against Gisborne at Camp Reserve - a match in which Ron Barassi was in the crowd - was Martin’s confidence to take the game on and play with flair.Such was the impact Martin was having at Castlemaine early in his debut senior season, coach Jamie Elliott knew he had something special on his hands, to the point where he contacted one of his former clubs, St Kilda, but received no response.“As a club we felt we needed to be pushing the kid to where he should be, because you knew at that early stage he was pretty special, but he was too young to be drafted in 2008,’’ Elliott said.“He’s just a powerful, powerful kid; I used to do one-on-ones with him as a 16-year-old and he would just push me off the ball.“I thought he could have played senior AFL football this year as a 17-year-old, no doubt.“I’ve never seen a kid run into a pack of six or seven men and come out backwards with the ball . . . it’s not as though he was running through the pack, he would run in like a bull, grab the footy and run out backwards.“There’s no doubt he’s the best kid I’ve seen play at that age; he’s just a phenomenal talent.’’After playing the last four games for the Pioneers in 2008, Martin - a St Kilda supporter who works as a labourer for Luke Arnott Electrical - was one of the side’s stars this year.In 11 matches he averaged 24.6 disposals, 4.0 marks and 3.0 tackles per game playing as a midfielder changing deep forward.“I was just happy to come into the Pioneers team late in 2008, and to have those four games was a really good experience to get a bit of an insight into what it was all about,’’ Martin said.“That helped me prepare for this year.’’But it was at this year’s under-18 national championships in June and July where Martin’s talents were truly on display when he averaged 21.4 possessions per game representing Victoria Country.Martin’s fine carnival was capped by being named in the centre in the All-Australian team as he further enhanced his growing reputation as one of the country’s hottest young prospects.“You never got an easy possession, but it was just good to get out and play against and with players of that quality,’’ Martin said.“It can only make you a better player.’’Among those who selected Martin in the All-Australian team was AFL national talent identification manager Kevin Sheehan.“Dustin has this enormous potential because he arrived on the scene really late last year, and even then looked to be a young star in his four games for the Pioneers,’’ Sheehan said.“But this year, right from the start people were talking a first-round draft choice when he was showing some of the attributes of a guy who used to play in the midfield for Bendigo a few years earlier in Joel Selwood.“His attack on the footy is just outstanding and he has elite speed for a guy who stands at 186cm.“He was the second-quickest over 20m at the draft camp with 2.89 seconds, and you can see that in the way he plays with the way he just bursts through the midfield.“It’s hard to lay a hand on him and tackle him; he’s just a powerful inside midfielder and thumping kick on his right and left foot.“Really, all the boxes have been ticked with his elite speed, he is prepared to work, has a real motor for endurance, and he played well in the big games for Victoria Country.“He’s an unassuming guy who really does just want to get out there and play the game.“He seems destined to make a real success of it.’’

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