By Marc McGowan
STEFAN Martin still pinches himself on the odd occasion he has time to reflect on his achievements.
The Berwick-based junior Australian basketball star turned AFL footballer leads a life most can only dream of.
Martin, 22, played eight games in his debut season for Melbourne last year and found himself opposed to the likes of Essendon great Matthew Lloyd, Kangaroos David Hale and Drew Petrie and Port Adelaide ruckman Brendon Lade.
The 198-centimetre defender had not even kicked a football competitively before he played at amateur level for Old Haileybury in 2006.
But Martin was a hit in his new sport from the start and won the under-19 league best-and-fairest with eight best-on-ground votes from his nine games.
“I didn’t even go to the awards night because I didn’t expect to have a chance, but I was told the next day,” he said. “I only started playing footy for fun and never had a goal to make AFL – I just wanted to muck around with my mates. I was getting a bit bored with basketball because I had played it for most of my life.”
Martin represented Australia in basketball in an under-20 Test series in New Zealand as a raw 17-year-old shooting guard in 2003.
He dreamed of playing in the NBL and trained with the Melbourne Tigers and South Dragons.
But Demons’ officials swooped on Martin after his first football season and considered drafting him in 2007 after the success of former basketballers Scott Pendlebury and Dean Brogan.
They ultimately overlooked him in that year’s draft, but advised Martin to play for their VFL affiliate Sandringham.
The former Haileybury College scholarship-holder started in Sandringham’s reserves, but was playing for the seniors by season’s end.
Melbourne officials again invited Martin to training, but this time selected him with the number-three pick in the 2008 pre-season draft.
He made his debut against Brisbane in round 14 at the MCG last June and only missed one match from then on.
Martin and his Melbourne teammates have trained at Casey Fields over the summer and he has heightened expectations for his second AFL season.
“I’m not the new guy any more and, having played eight games, I feel like I belong there,” he said.
“Ideally, I want to be a regular member of the team – although that’s out of my hands, to a degree.”
Martin’s kicking, strength and fitness are still a work in progress, but he is hoping for an improved year – much like his team.
“We definitely have lots of talented players and we know we have a long way to go, but we have the core of a good team,” he said.
“If we work hard enough we’ll be able to win games eventually and success might come sooner than people think.”
Sport is sure to be a huge part of Martin’s life over the next decade, but his phenomenal 99.75 ENTER score ensured he has plenty else to look forward to.
Martin will juggle his AFL career with the fourth year of a science-law double degree at Melbourne University in 2009.
“I didn’t get much time to put towards it at all because, as a first-year player, you want to do everything right and fully concentrate on footy,” he said.
“You tend to get caught up with training every day and you don’t always get time to reflect on it.
“But if someone calls up and says ‘this is just crazy what you’re doing’, you sort of realise I hadn’t even played footy three years ago and now I’m on the MCG.”
By Marc McGowan