Stefan Martin hasn't let injury keep him down
STEFAN Martin is excited about the prospect of being a part of a full-strength Brisbane Lions midfield next season - one in which he and Matthew Leuenberger alternate in the ruck.
At the crossroads three months ago, the 27-year-old's career-revival has been one of the stories of 2014.
If not for knee injuries to Leuenberger and back-up big man Trent West, however, the athletic 198cm powerhouse may not have had a chance at the top level again.
After playing just five games last season following his arrival from Melbourne, Martin made his first appearance this year in round 12.
He had only returned to the field two weeks earlier in the NEAFL after overcoming a back injury, but hit the ground running for the seniors … and hasn't stopped.
Among the permanent ruckmen in the league, he is a number one for average disposals (22), marks (6) and clearances (4), while also registering a career-high 30 hit-outs.
It's the type of form that have fans hoping doesn't diminish if he's forced to play second-fiddle to Leuenberger.
"You look at other teams and West Coast is a great example when (Dean) Cox and (Nic) Naitanui are up and running," he told APN yesterday.
"Their best position is in the ruck, but having a tall target up forward is handy too. Whether they are hitting the scoreboard or not they are still going to draw a good Defender.
"I talked to Leppa (coach Justin Leppitsch) this week, and he's pretty excited about next year, having 'Leuey' back and getting perhaps myself and him up and running and trying to be a really dangerous duo, swapping through the ruck and playing some tricks ... maybe try and reinvent the way ruckmen play together."
As well as Leuenberger, onballers Jack Redden and Daniel Rich will also be back next season to rejoin ball magnet Tom Rockliff and the hard-running Pearce Hanley, not to mention rising stars James Aish and Lewis Taylor.
"I was talking to Daniel Rich just a couple of days ago about next year and getting that whole midfield group together, we're pretty excited about it, to be honest," Martin said.
"If we get everyone on the park, hopefully we can do some damage."
Suffice to say, Martin doesn't plan on going anywhere, with his manager, Paul Connors, currently in negotiations with the club about a new contract after the old one expires at the end of this season.
"It would be great to sort something out sooner rather than later," he said.
It's hard to believe now that Martin was vying with untried rookie Archie Smith when a replacement was needed when West went down.
Martin understood Leppitsch had "taken a bit of a youth policy and so it would have been exciting to play another youngster".
"And, in his defence, he also hadn't really seen me play before he got to the club, so he probably didn't have all that good a knowledge of me as a player."
Martin was always confident he could perform, however, in the way he did when impressing for the Demons during a rare injury-free run in 2011 when playing 21 games.
That was before a frustrating couple of seasons in which he played only a further 12 games, a hip injury curtailing his 2012 and an ankle injury hampering his first season at Brisbane. With the Lions winning five games since he came into the side this season, he's also enjoying a rare run of success after playing in just 15 wins over his first six seasons in the AFL.
"It's pretty cool to be part of a winning team and bit of a turnaround for the team," he said. "And it's nice to be able to contribute a little bit to that."
The biggest and best would come tomorrow if the Lions can topple fourth-placed Fremantle at the Gabba.
Martin's battle with giant Aaron Sandilands will be crucial.
"It's probably as tough a challenge as you get in the ruck," he said.