Dustin Martin’s Job Driving Forklifts a Defining Moment in his Journey to Becoming an AFL Superstar

Originally published by The Daily Telegraph.

HE’S the Campbelltown forklift driver turned AFL superstar.

A kid who left high school early and via Sydney’s southwest has become the shortest-priced Brownlow Medal favourite ever.

No one has had a stint at Campbelltown Football Club on the way to becoming one of AFL’s elite, except for Richmond’s Dustin Martin.

Campbelltown and its surrounding suburbs such as Minto are renowned for being the birthplace of rugby league superstars, like Jarryd Hayne and former Storm player turned Wallaby Israel Folau.

But rugby league heartland is where Dusty had a season-long stint playing Aussie rules after he left school in Year 9.

Back in 2007, after he left his hometown of Castlemaine in Victoria, he headed north to be with his dad Shane and to work with him at his transport business in Campbelltown.

Martin worked laborious 12-hour days driving a forklift, living a “normal life” in Sydney’s southwest. It was a defining moment for Martin.

“I hated it,” Martin once said. “I was working long days and it was not a very good job.”

After working from 6am to 6pm he would head off to training at the Ingleburn Magpies under 16s.

“The kid from Victoria” eclipsed his peers, easily.

Local coaches suggested he go up another level.

He was soon elevated to the Campbelltown Blues for the under 18s.

He smoked them in that division too.

One of the coaches there was Glenn Garner, a man who had grown up playing on the footy ovals of Gippsland in Victoria, and he knew from the first moment he saw ‘Dusty’ play that the kid was destined for the top.

“He just looked like an AFL footballer,” says Garner, who was the captain and coach for the Blues at the time.

“Dusty pretty much had everything. I remember thinking at the time his lateral movement was like a Robert Harvey-type player, his kicking skills. He never looked quick — but he obviously had speed because he always had time and space. He just stood out. He just looked like an AFL player.”

After watching him play a number of games in the under 18s Glenn met with Dusty and his dad Shane.

“I thought he would have no problem playing senior footy,” Garner says. “He was already reasonably developed. I talked to his dad and Dusty. I said: ‘Do you want to have a crack at a senior game?”

They agreed. A statutory declaration was signed to allow him to play with the men. And so Martin played his one and only game for the Campbelltown seniors’ team.

“We threw him in there,” Garner says. “Look, he didn’t look out of place playing senior footy. He didn’t dominate, it was only the one game, but he made really good decisions, he was really calm. He was just the complete package already as a kid.

“His attitude was really impressive. He didn’t try to do everything himself. He was really calm and collected. Not fussed or fazed. He just did what he needed to do.”

Garner wanted him to play for the NSW/ACT Rams.

“I can’t remember, maybe he trained with them, but then he went back home at the end of 2007,” he says.

Martin had grown a “bit sick of” driving a forklift for hours on end, living that ‘normal life’, and also was missing his friends.

“So I decided to move home and back to all my mates,” Martin said in that 2011 Daily Telegraph interview. “I did a bit of work back home but I wouldn’t say it made me want (to make it in the AFL) any more. It just happened really.”

And so Martin has ascended over the last decade. He went No.3 in the AFL draft.

At 26, he was last week named the AFL Players’ Association MVP.

Martin has done it all under a huge media spotlight, made all the more intense by the fact his father has been deported to New Zealand because of his links to the Rebels motorcycle gang.

AFL champion Leigh Matthews’ believes Martin played the greatest season in the history of the game.

The Brownlow is expected to be draped around Martin’s neck on Monday week.

Not bad for a former Campbelltown forklift driver.