In a year where we’ve all been asked to follow more rules than ever, it’s kind of perfect a pair of scallywags have finished as the most celebrated players in the AFL and NRL.
In the space of four weeks they’ve scooped up two premierships, an Origin shield, a Norm Smith Medal, a Wally Lewis Medal and most likely more alcoholic beverages than some men drink in a year.
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We talk of course of Dustin Martin and Cameron Munster. Or Dusty and Munny. The Tiger King and the Storm Boy. Two lads who play hard and celebrate just as hard – if not harder.
Their approach doesn’t work for everyone but it’s going to be increasingly hard for parents and junior coaches to preach the importance of staying on the straight and narrow after two of the loosest characters in Aussie sport dominated their respective codes this year.
After all the obituaries written about the death of the larrikin in Aussie sport, Martin and Munster have proved you can succeed and not hurt the performance of your team while still having plenty of fun.
And you can argue their at times reckless attitude off-field is exactly why they’re so good on it.
Two plays from the two biggest games of the year highlight it perfectly.
The first came near the end of the second quarter of the AFL Grand Final.
Martin’s Richmond side was trailing by 15 points after he’d just kicked a ridiculous match-turning goal over his left shoulder.
He was obviously feeling good and after winning a free kick about 45m out near the boundary attempted to kick a long-range banana through the big sticks. It did not go well.
“He’s kicked it in the belly of the ball and it didn’t spin back at all,” Brian Taylor said in commentary. “For the first time ever in his career, something hasn’t worked.”
Why in a match where he kicked four spectacular goals and set up several others was this a moment that defined him?
Because he shook it off like a would-be tackler. Most footballers who have a crack at pulling off a miracle shot like that and get it that badly wrong don’t attempt the kick off the outside of his boot Martin dribbled through from 50m in the third quarter. Or take on a Patrick Dangerfield tackle and curl a shot over their head like Martin did successfully in the fourth.
Geelong coach Chris Scott admitted the triple Norm Smith Medalist is “peerless in the way he plays” but it’s his ability to take risks and live with the results that makes him special – and similar to Munster.
The Melbourne Storm player doesn’t always get it right – he was sent off twice in a forgettable 2018 grand final and was told in no uncertain terms where to take his suggestion Cam Smith should execute a short kick-off in the dying stages of the 2020 decider.
Like Martin, he’s also had his problems off the park.
“Cameron’s a ratbag and we love him for it,” Smith wrote in his new book. “He enjoyed a good time away from footy but at times he went down the wrong path. The thing that was really good about him was that it never affected his footy.”
Munster also has a willingness to attempt the impossible when it matters most.
Five minutes before halftime in the Origin decider Queensland found itself in a frustrating 6-6 tie despite dominating a NSW side that had lost its star, James Tedesco.
Entering the main break without a lead would have been a disaster and perhaps given the Blues the impetus to attempt the type of comeback the Maroons did in game one.
So Munster rolled the dice.
After shaking off Nathan Cleary’s attempt to tackle him for no gain, Munster made a split second decision to attempt a grubber kick past Isaah Yeo and Josh Addo-Carr.
There was barely any room between the Blues duo but somehow the ball evaded them and ended up back in Munster’s hands.
With replacement Clint Gutherson rushing offer to provide coverage, this was again a moment where many other players may have played it safe. Munster had already broken the line and made a decent gain. Just take the tackle and let a teammate attack from dummy-half.
But that’s not how he rolls. In a breathtaking act of quick-thinking and skill execution he guided the ball down on to his left boot a second time, asking another question of the Blues defence.
When Daniel Tupou failed to gain possession it left NSW completely out of shape and Munster, having seen the space on the far side of the ground, positioned himself perfectly to receive a pass from Harry Grant on the next play and send a kick over for Eldrick Lee to score.
It set the Maroons on the march to victory and rightfully earned Munster all sorts of plaudits post-game.
“At the end of the day, Cameron Munster was the difference,” NSW coach Brad Fittler said. “He was outstanding.”
“When you talk about the greatest ever Origin players, you have to talk about Cameron Munster,” added Matty Johns, noting Munster’s ability to also deliver in game one shortly after finishing up his grand final celebrations with the Storm.
“In Origin I, he dominated with a hangover, in Origin II, he was KO’d and they sunk like the Titanic.
“He returns in Game III, they win, and he is clearly the best player on the field … (his) performance on Wednesday night was as good as any I’ve seen in Origin football.”
It was fitting to see vision of Martin wildly celebrating Munster and the Maroons’ win from the Suncorp Stadium stands in a video posted by internationally-famous DJ and legendary partier Fisher.
Some of the footage Fisher has posted of Richmond’s raucous revelry in the past month is every bit as entertaining as some of the images that emerged of Munster – first with Champ Cheese and the Melbourne boys and now with the Maroons.
So here’s to the scallywags. The brilliant boundary-pushers who get away with things us mere mortals wouldn’t even dream of attempting.
In a year where we’ve counted toilet paper squares and tapped elbows and had less fun than ever, it’s been a joy to watch Martin and Munster do their thing.