If there’s one thing sports media loves more than a rowdy bad boy it’s a quiet one. It’s so much simpler to colour in the lines of a person – to add flourishes and guess what he’s really like – when you know he won’t offer a correction.

Even after years of being the most closely watched player in the AFL, Dustin Martin has remained a complete enigma. His shyness and protective instincts have compounded, leaving him safer in silence than he could ever be as a talking head.

A preternaturally nervous kid – who, despite having emerged as a star of the Richmond Football Club and an inevitable legend of the game, hasn’t quite grown out of that as a 27-year-old – in interviews Martin inhales air like it’s in short supply, looks like he’d rather be just about anywhere else, and sticks to a short list of failsafe responses. As a Richmond supporter I’ve heard all of his lines many times over. But I also knew this player – who inspires affection and gushing praise in everyone from his coach and captain to the most composed commentators – had more to say than a media environment that relies on instant quips and critiques could fully accommodate.

“I just don’t really like talking about myself,” he explains simply, when I begin our interview by asking him why avoidance is the course of action he chooses most often. “I’m quite reserved, I ‘spose. I like to just stick to my footy and let [it] do the talking.”

In the days following his Brownlow win in 2017, Fairfax’s Greg Baum wrote, “Dusty has become a puzzle the media feels it must solve.”

But when you look past the ways in which he doesn’t meet the expectations of how we demand celebrities and beloved public figures behave, the pieces fit together pretty simply: the things that mattered came naturally to Dustin Martin. It was the side-effects of his success – the attention, the craning necks, the speculation about his motivations and pressures – that didn’t sit right. So he didn’t sit with them.