Rohan Connolly's five most-watchable AFL players of all time

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RICHMOND'S 29-POINT win against Hawthorn last Sunday at the MCG was a relatively mundane affair, the Hawks giving a decent account of themselves before, not for the first or last time of late, the Tigers flexed a little more muscle and put the result to bed.

Us neutral observers have seen hundreds more games more compelling. But there was still one factor which made it impossible to look away. And its name was Dustin Martin.

The Richmond champion's ascent over the past five years truly has been stunning. And it continues. After two rounds this season, he's already warm favourite at $4 to win a second Brownlow Medal, half the price quoted the next most backed player on that list.

Another crop of honours to go with his existing "Charlie", three premiership medallions, a record three Norm Smith Medals, four All-Australian gongs and two Tiger best and fairests would absolutely see Martin rightly enter discussions about greatest players of all time.

But when it comes to the category "most watchable," I'm firmly of the belief Martin is already there.

I decided after last Sunday's game to put together a list of the five most watchable players I've seen in 50-odd years of watching Australian football. Martin is in there. And in pretty good company.

Indeed, I have two current players in my top five, the other of whom made a much-heralded comeback from long-term injury last Saturday at the SCG.

Yes, I'm talking about Lance Franklin, whose crowd-pleasing attributes need little detailing after having performed them for so long.

What struck me most about Martin, though, as I watched him again last Sunday, was the audible buzz that emerged from the MCG crowd every single time the ball was in his vicinity. That's been the case with Franklin for much of his career, too.

It's a measuring stick accorded very few players in the game's history. And in the case of Martin, rightly so.

Because you know every time he gets his hands on the football -- and that's been the case on 59 occasions already thus far in 2021 -- that something truly exciting, and for the opposition damaging, will follow.

Everything Dusty does has an inherent exclamation mark about it.

It might be his deft touches to set teammates up out of seemingly impenetrable midfield traffic. It might be one of those bullet-like kicks to Richmond's advantage after Martin bulldozes his way through traffic with a "don't argue" and swivel of the hips and sends a rocket by foot spearing on to the chest of another yellow-and-black jumper.

Or it might be those moments when Martin creeps forward to stand in space close to goal.

That's when that audible buzz seems to reach its crescendo, as was the case against Hawthorn when even a player as good and as feted as Shaun Burgoyne was made at times to look like meat about to be fed to the lions, the pair jostling for position before Martin inevitably used his strength and judgement to get the better of his opponent and take the grab.

The big point of difference between Martin and the other players on this list is obvious. They are all goalkickers. The champion Tiger is first and foremost a ball-winning midfielder. That says plenty on its own.

In terms purely of numbers, Martin has been prolific, averaging 25 disposals across his now 246 AFL games.

Only 10 players in history have gone at a higher rate for 250 games or more. That list includes four Brownlow medallists in Robert Harvey, Greg Williams, Sam Mitchell and Dane Swan, and a couple of other current-day players in Scott Pendlebury and Josh Kennedy.

Even the likes of Gary Ablett junior, Nathan Buckley, James Hird, Chris Judd and Michael Voss couldn't reach that average of 25 across that long a period. Of those who did, how many have done it with as much immediately distinctive swagger in their signature move.

But that's the other thing about Martin. In his case, it's actually plural, as in signature moves. It could be that burst away from centre square traffic. But it could also be the one-on-one marking duel with a hapless opponent who knows his demise is imminent well before the ball arrives. Or the wheel on to the right foot and crafted snap over the shoulder for a goal.

Brownlow medallist Patrick Dangerfield, the man left sprawling on the turf as Martin executed that latter move in last year's grand final to underscore Richmond's win over Geelong, on his way to a third Norm Smith Medal, knows it all too well.

"I can remember a passage of play [in the Grand Final] where I just chuckled to myself because it was just too good," Dangerfield said of Martin in a recent interview. "Sometimes, you've just got to take your hat off and say: 'too good'."

And the fact a player as good and as seasoned as Dangerfield, about to lose a grand final, can even in that moment find not only the grace but sense of fan-like awe at watching Martin at his best, says it all, really.

MY FIVE MOST-WATCHABLE PLAYERS OF ALL TIME

5. LANCE FRANKLIN (Hawthorn/Sydney)

Panther-like agility and mobility, a key position-sized forward who has played as much like a mobile on-baller as a traditional key forward. Superb athleticism and a thumping kick have taken "Buddy" to within touching distance of the magical 1000-goal landmark. And like Ablett, he's performed feats and kicked goals the nature of which others simply aren't capable.

4. DUSTIN MARTIN (Richmond)

The fend-off. The hip swivel. The snap around the body. The bullet-like kicking. It's all wrapped up in one magical package, one which is just as lethal around the ground as it is close to goal. Has any player won this much of the football as dynamically and entertainingly? I doubt it.

3. TONY LOCKETT (St Kilda/Sydney)

The Lockett we saw play for the Swans over the last third of his career was a goalkicking guru. But it's the St Kilda version of "Plugger" I remember most vividly, a player with deceptive agility for his burly frame, but most memorably, an air of physical menace about him which genuinely scared opponents (and nearly killed Essendon's Brad Fox). Incredible pair of hands, a truly beautiful and impossibly accurate kick.

2. WAYNE CAREY (North Melbourne/Adelaide)

I can't think of another player who was as capable as often of turning a game on his own when required. It wasn't just aerial ability with "The Duck", it was that combined with mobility and sheer physical presence, an arrogant swagger which intimidated opponents. His 1994 finals series performances were truly exquisite stuff.

1. GARY ABLETT SNR. (Hawthorn/Geelong)

An easy choice, simply because he did things no other player I have seen was physically capable of doing. He did them with a combination of explosive power, strength and incredible football guile. And he did them repeatedly. Will any player in football history have as spectacular a highlights reel? Not in my opinion.

You can read more of Rohan Connolly's work at footyology.com.au