Richmond football boss Neil Balme flew to New Zealand to visit Dustin Martin’s father Shane on the eve of the Tiger star’s crucial family meeting which ultimately sealed his decision to remain at the club.
Determined to communicate ‘father to father’ Richmond’s long-term commitment to the 26-year-old champion, Balme missed the Tigers’ final home-and-away clash at the MCG against St Kilda in a bid to meet Shane Martin face to face for the first time.
The dramatic Dustin Martin contract saga officially ended on The Footy Show three nights later but by close of business Monday night Richmond’s inner sanctum knew that the player in his own mind had committed to stay. Apart from wanting to see his father the purpose of the visit was to communicate to Shane Martin the desire to remain a Tiger despite the extra estimated $1.8 million on offer from the Kangaroos.
Balme’s secret New Zealand mission – the club approved the trip the night before the St Kilda game without the knowledge of Martin’s manager Ralph Carr – did not turn out according to plan. But the internal view at Tigerland is that the extra lengths the club was prepared to go to to was not lost on the high profile restricted free agent as he weighed up a significantly richer offer from North Melbourne.
Shane Martin would not meet Balme telling him he had a pre-arranged engagement to meet friends to watch the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight.
Balme had contacted him unannounced upon landing in New Zealand so instead the pair exchanged text messages in which Balme reportedly delivered the message he had hoped to spell out in person. Dustin Martin, who flew to New Zealand with Ralph Carr the following day, was understood to have been disappointed that Balme and his father never actually managed to meet.
The club had been keen on several occasions from the start of the season for Balme and/or his football lieutenant Daniel Richardson to make the trip but had been discouraged by Carr from doing so. In the end Balme decided he could not allow the pivotal family meeting to go ahead without attempting to tell Shane Martin how much Richmond cared for his son as a person as well as a champion footballer.
Very few at the club were told the true reason for Balme’s absence at the MCG on August 27 where Martin was putting in yet another best afield performance to help secure his club a top four spot. Balme remained in New Zealand until early Monday, offering to attend the meeting involving the Martin father and son along with Carr. But he was discouraged from doing so.
Instead, after flying home to Melbourne, he spoke to Shane Martin over the telephone and was able to satisfy the Martin camp’s request for a slight amendment to the Richmond offer which would favour the player. The club also readily agreed to the camp’s request to sell the story to Channel Nine.
While it went against traditional team values the view was that Martin had pledged his loyalty to Richmond ahead of significantly more money elsewhere and therefore had every right to commercially handle the announcement. By Wednesday night’s All-n team announcement the strong message buzzing around Melbourne’s Palais Theatre was that Martin would be staying at Richmond.
North officials, confident over the previous weekend, believed he was lost to the club. But still those in on the deal remained silent determined to honour the agreement with the Martin camp and allow Carr to oversee the announcement the following night.
After fulfilling his The Footy Show commitments Martin joined his teammates at the home of his captain and close friend Trent Cotchin where the TV was on Channel Nine although he reportedly left the room while his interview was televised. In football terms Martin celebrated his decision with a memorable performance at the MCG in Richmond’s emphatic qualifying final win over Geelong.
Days earlier Shane Martin learned that he would remain exiled from after the Federal Government pushed through an amendment to the immigration act. The elder Martin, who has denied being involved in criminal activity, will therefore miss the forthcoming preliminary final and the Brownlow Medal count where his son is the favourite and is expected to bring teammate Sam Lloyd as his plus one.
But Balme, who on Monday refused to discuss with Fairfax Media his New Zealand mission, is understood to remain determined to meet the father of his champion player whether or not he remains in exile. With Shane Martin’s blessing he has undertaken to make the trip after Richmond’s September campaign is complete.