How do you tackle the untackleable?
Richmond's Dustin Martin is just about the most difficult player in the AFL to bring to ground in the open field, mainly due to his trademark "don't argue", which he performs so powerfully and instinctively.
It was on show again during last Friday's Magpies vs. Tigers clash at the MCG. I couldn't believe how many Collingwood players tried to tackle him but were simply brushed off by the rampaging Martin.
He ended up playing another fantastic all-round game collecting 30 disposals -- including 14 contested possessions -- eight score involvements, three clearances, four tackles and one goal. Interestingly he notched 57 percent of his possessions in the back half, but, without the injured Brett Deledio in the side, Martin needs to be working mid-forward more, giving them that drive into attacking positions.
His fend-off is something his opponents struggle to cope with. You see it every week, and I wonder how much rival teams prepare for him by watching the vision on Sportscode in slow motion? He does it with such force, he just explodes with his palm, but if you're expecting it you can bring him down.
The emphasis on tackling is changing with pressure acts, corralling and forcing an elevated kick being just as valuable with the space afforded at times in modern game plans.
A lot of clubs do work on their tackling, but maybe it is not enough when it comes to individuals like Martin. I remember Fremantle coach Ross Lyon being interviewed about the Dockers strong tackling during the past few seasons and he said they don't really train for it - it's more about intent, and his players turning up knowing they need to apply fierce pressure.
The hardest player to tackle from my time in the AFL was Gary Ablett junior. I was thankful than I didn't have to play on him directly, but certainly as a stoppage unit we put a lot of work into him to try and curb his influence and ability to break out from congestion. You always had to have intense concentration the whole time because of his lateral movement, power through the legs, and low centre of gravity. But Martin is a completely different kettle of fish. He doesn't try to get around tackles, he actively seeks them out and can use his power to brush off someone trying to tackle him.
Certainly when players are coming up against someone like 'Dusty' they've got to understand that his fend-off is his method to break a tackle. Opponents need to know how they're going to approach it.
Which brings me to the question - how do you tackle a powerhouse like Martin?
I think there's three options for would-be tacklers:
1. Try to secure Martin's arm as he thrusts it out towards them - just as Melbourne's Jack Viney did so brilliantly against St Kilda's Mav Weller in Round 11 last season. By grabbing the arm and pulling them into the tackle, it also allows them to keep moving their feet. Too often players stand up too straight meaning their easily pushed off balance and they allow him to plant his hand on their chest or shoulder. They've got no chance of bringing him down from this point.
2. Opponents need to change their level, a bit like they're ducking a boxing punch and aim for Martin's hips. By driving into one side of the body or picking a shoulder it only gives them one exit and the sidestep is less of a threat. When you tackle, you really do have to focus on the hips, which is a tell-tale sign of which direction a player is moving. This is where a player's concentration comes into it.
3. It's also imperative that anyone who tries to tackle a beast like Martin meets him at a similar pace - so if he's accelerating, they need to accelerate into the tackle too to match his force. But if he slows down, they need to decelerate as well, keeping their feet moving so they're in a good position to change direction and tackle. Reading the cues becomes critical. If the eyes are busy and he looking down to take a bounce, that is your opportunity to take space and get at him.
Martin's physical attributes play a huge role in him being almost untackleable, but his mindset is just as important.
Over the past few seasons, his contested possesion numbers suggest he is far more outside than many believe but he is a bullocking player first and foremost, and wants to take people on. Most players are happy to concede that they'll be tackled and just try to get their arms free to handball off, but 'Dusty' has that aggressive mindset. It's an incredible trait to have. And as soon as he breaks a tackle, he then has time and space to deliver by foot. He doesn't waste too many disposals, and can be deadly going towards goal.
He really is so different to other players, and his versatility is a major weapon too - he can set up his team off half-back, be a bull as an inside midfielder, or be a major threat one-one-one inside 50. He's a fascinating player to watch.