KEY MAN: Brownlow Medallist Dustin Martin prepares for the grand final.
KEY MAN: Brownlow Medallist Dustin Martin prepares for the grand final. JOE CASTRO

AFL Grand Final: Dusty presents dilemma for Dimma

ADELAIDE knows the value of a skilful midfielder being parked in front of the big sticks during a grand final.

The Crows had the benefit of the mercurial Darren Jarman during their back-to-back premiership years of 1997 and 1998.

While Andrew McLeod would claim successive Norm Smith Medals as the best-afield in those deciders against St Kilda and North Melbourne, respectively, Jarman was the true matchwinner on both occasions.

Jarman had won a flag in his first AFL season in 1991 with Hawthorn, but struggled on the day, gathering just five touches - and kicking one behind - while being completely blanketed by Eagle backman and future Gold Coast coach Guy McKenna.

Under the coaching of Malcolm Blight, the 1995 All-Australian centreman would redeem himself on the biggest stage for the South Australians, the part-time forward booting six goals in the 1997 premiership decider, including five in the final term, and another five 12months later.

The Crows now face the prospect of a midfield superstar being the game-breaker in attack at their expense.

Dustin Martin has won everything in footy this season ... so far.

All that's left are premiership and Norm Smith medals to go with his MVP and Brownlow honours.

Martin was catalyst for the Tigers' preliminary final win on Saturday against GWS.

He booted three goals and set up numerous others as he roamed the Tigers' forward half, always ready to pounce.


Dustin Martin reacts after kicking a goal against the GWS Giants at MCG last Saturday.
Dustin Martin reacts after kicking a goal against the GWS Giants at MCG last Saturday. JULIAN SMITH


He got his club into the playoffs as the game's most damaging midfielder, but could ensure it wins its first flag in 37 years as the most dangerous forward.

To go with his 715 disposals and a league-leading 147 forward-50m entries this season, he has slotted a career-high 35 majors, ranking him second at the club behind its lone tall forward Jack Riewoldt (52) and ahead of speedy smalls Dan Butler (29), Dan Rioli (25) and Jason Castagna (25).

Martin spent 61% of Saturday's preliminary final against the Giants in attack. The most he had spent there previously was just 41%.

He finished with game-highs for forward-half score involvements (12), forward-half ground balls (10), forward-half disposals (19) and forward-half contested possessions (12).

Coach Damien "Dimma" Hardwick described the 26-year-old as "enormous".

"I thought (tagger Stephen) Coniglio was on top of him in the first half, and then he went forward," he said.

"That's the great thing about great players ... when we needed him to be a presence up forward he created those chances for us.

"I've got a chess piece there that I can move at various stages."


ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 27:  Eddie Betts and David Mackay during an Adelaide Crows AFL Grand Final training session at Adelaide Oval on September 27, 2017 in Adelaide, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)
EDDIE'S READY: Eddie Betts and David Mackay during a Crows training session. Mark Brake

Like Patrick Dangerfield, Martin is such a unique physical specimen with all the attributes to thrive anywhere on the field. "That's the hard thing about Dustin (for the opposition) - it's trying to find the right match-up," Hardwick said.

The Crows have the third-most miserly defence, soundly marshalled by fullback Daniel Talia, top interceptor Jake Lever and the dashing Rory Laird. But they will struggle to find a suitable defender to man the dangerous Martin. He's too agile for talls and too strong for the smalls.

It will be a major dilemma for coach Hardwick - persist with his main man up the front or send him back to being on the ball to help out skipper Trent Cotchin, knowing full well that Adelaide is No.2 for clearances and No.1 for contested disposals.

Rory Sloane is back and the Crouch brothers, Matt and Brad, have come of age. Their power at the stoppages has led to the Crows being able to get the best out of their most powerful weapon - their attack - as No.1 for scoring power (averaging 109points per game)

It's the most complete forwardline in the business, with Taylor Walker (52 goals) leading from the front and backed by Eddie Betts (54), Josh Jenkins (45), Tom Lynch (31) and preliminary final hero Charlie Cameron (28).

It will put the best-performed defence of the Tigers (conceding an average 75 points) to the ultimate test.

Walker, to be manned fullback Alex Rance, booted five last time as the Crows won by 76 points at the Adelaide Oval to make it three in a row against the Tigers.

Manic in their pressure, the Tigers will be determined to keep the ball away from them by controlling proceedings up field. Hardwick will be thinking "if only I had two Dustin Martins".