FEELING FIT: Stefan Martin says his body feels very young and he can't see any reason why he can't play for a few more years.
FEELING FIT: Stefan Martin says his body feels very young and he can't see any reason why he can't play for a few more years. AAP - Josh Woning

Ageing big man in for the long haul with Lions

STEFAN Martin has confidence his finely tuned body will hold up to rigours of AFL football for a few more years.

And in turn, he might just finally taste the finals football that has been glaringly absent from his 11-year AFL career.

With 154 games to his name, the 31-year-old Brisbane Lions ruckman sits behind former Melbourne teammates - now at other clubs - Lynden Dunn (Collingwood, 196), Tom Rockliff (Port Adelaide, 169), Jack Watts (Port Adelaide, 168) and Jeremy Howe (Collingwood, 158) on the list of players who have played the most games without appearing in a final.

Three of that quartet should break their duck this year, with Dunn sadly sidelined for the rest of the season through injury.

For Martin, he's hoping his time will eventually come with an ever-improving team on the cusp of something special.

"You don't want to count the chickens before they hatch but .... I would love it to happen in the next few years," he said.

"A few of us have been around for a while now and lost a lot of games. It would be nice to still be around when the team's doing well."

 

Toby Nankervis lays a tackle on Brisbane’s Stefan Martin. Picture: Getty Images
Toby Nankervis lays a tackle on Brisbane’s Stefan Martin. Picture: Getty Images

 

At the risk of rubbing further salt into the wounds, only fellow Lion Lewis Taylor (21.3%) has a worse winning percentage than Martin (23.7%) of the players with at least 100 games' experience.

Martin arrived at Melbourne via the pre-season draft in 2008 as a 21-year-old former basketballer and struggled to cement a spot in an already struggling side.

"I'm lucky I came into the game pretty late," he said.

"I didn't accrue a lot of the injuries, and get the Ks in the legs like a lot of the other boys.

"I think that will hold me in good stead. My body feels very young and I don't see any reason why I can't play for a few more years."

Initially plagued by injury, it took him a couple of years to find a regular spot in the Brisbane line-up after arriving at the end of 2012.

Having won the club best and fairest in a breakout 2015, after assuming the No.1 ruck mantle, he is now considered among the best big men in the league.

 

Rhys Stanley of the Cats takes on Stefan Martin. Picture: Michael Dodge/Getty Images
Rhys Stanley of the Cats takes on Stefan Martin. Picture: Michael Dodge/Getty Images

 

While Martin is ranked seventh for hit-outs in 2018, only Brodie Grundy averages more disposals and clearances among the ruckman.

Martin is proud of having forged such a reputation.

"When I first came to the Lions I playing that second ruck-forward role," he said.

"To be known as a decent ruckman is something I do cherish. I've worked hard the last few years to be fit enough and strong enough to play the role. I really do appreciate the position that I've got."

Martin is not about to hand over the reins anytime soon, even if young tyros Archie Smith and Oscar McInerney have publicly admitted they would love his job.

"I've got a level of sympathy for especially Archie, because he's not playing in the ones at the moment," Martin said.

"I understand how frustrating that is. I've been in his position before.

"I can't do a whole lot to make his life more enjoyable, in footy terms, but I know he'll get his chance. He's good enough to be a No.1 ruckman with an AFL team."

 

Oscar McInerney is making his mark at the Lions.
Oscar McInerney is making his mark at the Lions.

 

Having debuted this season, McInerney has been a beacon in attack and also given Martin the odd chop out in the ruck.

"He could be a bonafide ruckman, but we're lucky he's going well as a forward. We can both play in the same team," Martin said. "He's been a dangerous target since he's come into the team."

While Martin admits there may have been a time when he considered returning to Melbourne, due to issues "extraneous to footy stuff", he is settled in Brisbane and undertaking a law degree.

"I've become increasingly happy in Brisbane over time," Martin said, "and I really love the club.

"I used to hear people say the young guys give you enthusiasm ... but I didn't really know what it meant. But now I'm find it to be true.

"I won't necessarily have all the energy in the world and then these young guys are bouncing off the walls. You can't help but feel excited about what you're doing."

 

Stefan Martin at Lions training. Picture: Annette Dew
Stefan Martin at Lions training. Picture: Annette Dew

 

Martin is happy to play the role of "the older guy" and often mentors his younger teammates in the gym. He is reputedly one of the strongest players in the competition.

"I love that they pick me to be bloke to ask questions of. I'm more than happy to tell them anything I know," he said, adding young forward Dan McStay was the man most capable of challenging him in the weights room.

"I had to learn a fair bit ... when I decided I wanted to be strong enough to hold down a ruck spot," Martin said.

"I went through a lot of trial error, a lot of research and stuff, working with our gym guys.

"It's nice to be able to share with the boys. They are putting in the work. In a few years you'll see some monsters around the place."