Dustin Martin's future at Richmond is looking increasingly unlikely after veteran coach Damien Hardwick's bombshell decision to quit last week. At least, that's the view of several AFL greats including Nathan Buckley, who insists Hardwick's shock departure has left "everything up for grabs" at the club - including their most prized asset.
Hardwick said he lost some passion for the job and blamed and was mentally worn out after 14 seasons in charge at Punt Road - a tenure which saw the Tigers resurrected from the AFL doldrums into a three-time premiership winning outfit. The Tigers have fallen away from their dominant best over the past two seasons, scraping into the top eight last year but struggling to keep up in 2023.
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Coincidentally, Hardwick and Martin both started their careers together at Richmond after debuting as coach and player in round one of the 2010 season. Hawthorn's four-time premiership star Jordan Lewis is among those to suggest that their careers at the Tigers could also finish in the same year.
Martin was at the centre of intense speculation last year that he was entertaining the idea of leaving the club, with the Sydney Swans and Gold Coast Suns understood to be the most likely destinations. The Swans denied speaking with Martin about the blockbuster move and Hardwick staunchly defended his superstar, following widespread reports that Martin wanted out of Melbourne, with retirement also floated as another possibility.
With Hardwick's shock exit and Richmond's continued struggles in 2023, Martin's future with the club is once again under the microscope. Speaking on RSN Breakfast on Monday morning, Lewis said he doubts the three-time premiership and Norm Smith Medal winner will retire, but does believe a change of scenery is on the cards for the 31-year-old.
“I think he’ll play elsewhere … Interstate, either Sydney or Queensland," Lewis said. Port Adelaide premiership player Kane Cornes was also asked on SEN Breakfast whether he could see Martin at Richmond next year, in which he responded: “Yes, but it’s his call. I don’t think it’s Richmond’s call.
“If he goes to the club and says ‘this is what I want to do’ – like Damien Hardwick and their ability to let him stand down, with what he’s contributed to the club, he’s going to be a legend in the Hall Of Fame – he goes with their blessing. Then you work out if you’re Richmond: ‘How do we make the best of this situation?’ Because they’ve traded all their picks, it would free up a big portion of their salary cap – even if they paid some of Dustin Martin’s wage.
“He’s not at his absolute best. He’s been really good and really solid – and for the first three quarters (against Port Adelaide on Sunday), I thought he’s the one that is going to win them the game. But then you don’t see him in the last quarter.”
Dustin Martin's Richmond future under the spotlight
Martin (two) was one of only two multiple goal-kickers on Sunday as the Tigers went down to Port Adelaide 10.17 (77) to 9.13 (67) in the first game since Hardwick's exit as coach. Former Collingwood coach Buckley said it should not be understated what impact the coach's departure could have on the wider playing group at Richmond, including that of Martin.
“One thing I would suggest is once a stalwart like Damien Hardwick decides to step out, then everything is up for grabs,” Buckley told SEN Breakfast. What it was, it’s not what it’s going to be because there’s going to be a shift in perspective and a change in philosophy or direction. So Dustin Martin could well end up wherever he wants to end up.”
Martin's contract at Richmond - like Hardwick's before he stepped down - is set to run out at the end of the 2024 season. SEN's Tom Morris said after showing interest in Martin last year, Gold Coast could come back in for the four-time All-Australian, having freed up salary cap pressure by trading Jack Bowes to Geelong. He implied it was anything but a done deal, but suggested the Suns could be readying themselves for another play at Martin.
“Gold Coast’s salary cap is not as precariously placed as it was 12 months ago, partly because Jack Bowes was traded out to Geelong. I’m not saying they’ve got a lot of space but they’re not in as bad a position as they were 12 months ago.
“This is what we know about Dusty based on the people I speak to that know him far better than I do. The attraction of living in Sydney or the Gold Coast is real at some stage down the track, whether it’s soon or after he retires. The Tigers will look somehow to get back into the first round of the draft, at the moment their first pick is pick 23.
“Gold Coast, which has built a pretty good list, are likely to ask the question again. The view from one list manager I spoke to a couple of days ago is that the Suns could look to give up a top 10 pick for Dusty, which he’s probably not quite worth anymore, but Richmond would pay a large chunk of his salary next year."
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