Richmond chief executive Brendon Gale expects superstar Dustin Martin to remain at Punt Road beyond the end of his current contract, despite recent trade whispers of a move to Sydney.
And the Tigers boss has labelled reports the club was particularly sensitive about coach Damien Hardwick’s personal situation during the final edits of the new AFL Amazon documentary as “complete rubbish”.
In a rollercoaster 2020 campaign, Martin and Hardwick were two of the most important pillars in the Tigers’ premiership triumph – their second flag in a row and their third in four years.
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Martin, who last year became the first AFL player ever to win the Norm Smith Medal three times, was at the centre of the AFL rumour mill on the weekend following comments from his agent, Ralph Carr, to The Daily Telegraph that did little to douse speculation the Tigers gun could finish his career in Sydney.
When pressed on Martin playing for the Swans, Carr told The Daily Telegraph: “I can’t say, that’s a big question. He’s got two years to go at Richmond and it’s too early to say where he might finish up.”
Martin has, on multiple occasions, proven his commitment to the Tigers, most notably in 2017 when he re-signed with Richmond until the end of 2024 and turned down a reported $10.5 million, seven-year deal to join North Melbourne.
Asked where the report sat on the fact or fiction scale, Gale laughed then told 3AW’s Sportsday: “Very interesting article … I could imagine they (Swans fans) would be (excited). I’m not sure the veracity of the article.
“Firstly, Dustin’s contracted to 2024. What I will say is Dustin is extremely professional in his approach to the game, he’s extremely competitive, an extremely proud competitor.
“He signed a seven-year contract with us at the end of 2017 – and I’m confident he’ll play beyond that and my expectation will be that it’ll be at Richmond. So I’ll leave it at that.”
Martin hasn’t been part of the Tigers’ leadership group in the past, but Gale said the explosive midfielder shouldn’t be ruled out as a potential Richmond captain once Trent Cotchin moves on.
“Dustin’s a really strong leader in his own way, in terms of a guy who knows who he is and brings a real sense of focus,” Gale said.
“At the end of the day, leadership is about proud to be – being yourself- and I think Dustin’s very much that.”
Hardwick’s private life has also dominated headlines in recent times after it emerged he’d split with his wife Danielle and begun a new relationship with a Tigers staff member.
The Herald Sun reported on the weekend that Hardwick’s personal situation was “one of the club’s focuses” when approving the final cut Making Their Mark – the upcoming Amazon documentary about the 2020 AFL season. The report suggested the club was keen to ensure there was “no perception of double standards”, given Hardwick often refers to family values and loyalty in speeches.
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“For what it’s worth, I did read that article and it’s complete rubbish,” Gale said when asked about the report. “We couldn’t have been more cooperative.
“The featured person was (Richmond president) Peggy (O’Neal) and that became problematic because of COVID. It rolled into me to some extent – and they were probably a bit underwhelmed with me – and moved on to ‘Dimma’ and Dimma couldn’t have been more open and more accessible. He took the cameras right into the heart of all the meetings and all the games.
“So for an article to suggest there was hiding was completely false. Yes we had some minor edits and things that were a bit sensitive at the time, but absolutely cooperative in every respect and it’ll be compelling vision.”
Gale said Hardwick’s off-field situation was “intensely personal and private and sensitive”, but added he needed to be across it as it has the potential to impact the football club.
“I think we’re all very saddened to see the end of a 30 year-relationship – I think that’s the natural response. But these things happen, as sad as they are,” Gale said.
“But at the end of the day, we decided on a course of action that we felt was in the best interest of the club. Damien’s been a very, very good coach for our football club and has continued to be so. He has a relationship with a person who happens to be an employee at a club – and that happens. We’ve got other people in relationships, we’ve got people, in fact, that are married. We have policies in place and guidelines which help manage that – and at the end of the day, we were satisfied everything was in place, the course of action followed.
“Damien is a very good football coach and will continue to be so at Richmond for many years to come.”
Asked if he was worried the situation could impact internal relationships and machinations at the Tigers this season, Gale said: “I’ll be honest, I worry for the family and I worry that’s a sad thing to see. But in terms of the football club, I don’t worry because our club, our football department and our coaches and our team have got a proven ability to focus on the things that are within their control, the things that really matter.
“They’re battle-hardened and they’ve got a flint-edged focus on performance. They’re really well prepared, they’re well coached, they’re hungry, they’re a very driven group – and I expect them to take that attitude into the 2021 season.”