When it emerged that Dustin Martin may leave his club, people thought Richmond fans would be devastated.
Still recovering from their club’s loss to Carlton in its first final for 12 years, surely the thought of losing our toughest midfielder would be too much to take?
And what about all those wide-eyed kids with number 4 on their back?
Not so fast.
Most Richmond fans were angry, but not at the fact they might lose a star player.
They were angry that Martin, who grew up in Castlemaine and didn’t finish high school, might reject those who had invested so much in him on and off the field.
They were also angry at his manager, Ralph Carr, for allowing such a mess to develop. When Martin and Carr said he was pursuing other options, many Richmond fans said “good riddance”.
How could someone who had been given a better chance in life by his football club threaten to walk out for the sake of a few bucks?
We all know about Dustin Martin’s off-field indiscretions and need for a steadying influence, particularly during his early days at Punt Rd.
No-one begrudged Martin his background and limited education. As long as he behaved and gave 100 per cent on the field he’d be accepted. And he was.
Now 22, Martin debuted in 2010. He has shown flashes of brilliance and until recently professed his loyalty to the Tigers, building a strong following of youngsters who idolise his silky skills.
Richmond fans embraced “Dusty” and his prodigious talent, which has yet to reach its full potential. This year he played some fantastic footy but faded occasionally when it mattered.
The Carlton elimination final was a case in point. After a brilliant first half, Martin went missing as Chris Judd led the Blues to a comeback victory.
He still has the potential to do anything with Richmond, but sadly we may not see that now.
Despite the club doing everything it could to help him, he may still leave. The most recent reports say the stand-off is continuing despite a number of clubs pulling out of the race.
This is frustrating for everyone and not doing Martin any good. What people need to realise is just how much Richmond has invested in this young man as an individual.
Early on the club was worried enough about his behaviour to have Martin board with club president Gary March and his family for two years.
This was a stabilising influence but didn’t stop him transgressing, particularly after he moved out.
Concerns were raised about his friendship group, late-night sightings and a lack of remorse after being disciplined. Rumours abounded; if a fraction were true it was not good.
Martin was last year discouraged from socialising with former teammate Dan Connors, who was sacked after the pair took sleeping pills and slept through a training session.
Then there were reports that Martin needed an off-field minder and captain Trent Cotchin has also mentored him.
This didn’t stop his friendship with Connors, whose twitter response to fans critical of Martin’s actions proved the club was right to sack him:
“Bunch of Richmond flogs let the kid live spare me with ya pathetic tweets! To the few gooodies out there I apologize in advance! #please”
Chris Riches spoke for many when he retorted: “Oh Dan. You should probably keep your thoughts to yourself considering the chances you were given (& wasted) by the club/fans you criticise.”
When Martin lifted his arms into a cross as a sign to mates in jail during the elimination final, he also lost my husband. “He can piss off,” Brian said. “He did nothing after that.”
This appears to be the sentiment of many Richmond supporters if “Dusty” decides to go.
We know loyalty in footy is all but dead. Footy careers are short and the likes of Dustin Martin and Lance Franklin, who may have limited post-footy earnings, need to look after themselves.
But this case is different. Richmond went to extraordinary lengths to nurture Martin and possibly prevented his career ending before it started. This must count for something.
Despite the messy situation that has developed, many Tiger fans like me still want “Dusty” to stay. We’ve also invested in him emotionally and want him to succeed in footy and life.
Martin has also clearly tried to improve his behaviour in recent years. No-one is perfect and he deserves credit for trying.
If he wants to leave his Richmond support network and try his luck elsewhere, then good luck to him. The club is bigger than the individual and Richmond and its fans will move on.
But we would love you to stay Dusty. Some of us are angry but we’ll get over it if you choose to stay with a group of players that could really take us somewhere.
At the end of the day I’m with Justin Flynn, who tweeted on the Tigers’ stance: “For three decades the club has let its players make the rules. That all ended today. Bravo @Richmond_FC.”
Cheryl Critchley is a Richmond member and is on twitter @CherylCritchley.