After the Swans fell to 2-2, there have been rumblings from their supporters about the ongoing role of their 1000-goal superstar, Lance Franklin.
We are now at the stage where playing Franklin as the stay-at-home full forward has become as much a hindrance as it is a weapon to the Sydney team, with the less mobile Buddy looking more like a traditional full forward than the versatile game-changer that was so potent for so long.
Against Aliir Aliir, Franklin was soundly beaten. Not just beaten – but destroyed by a man faster, stronger, and now, more agile than him. At 36 years of age, and without the one-wood that most key forwards possess (being a powerful contested mark), Buddy is looking less like a threat and increasingly like someone taking up space in the Sydney forward line.
And sadly, that space could be occupied by other, more able forwards like Isaac Heeney, Logan McDonald, or Joel Amartey.
It begs the question – did Buddy go on for one year too long?
And were the Swans too accommodating by allowing him to? Particularly in the role he has occupied for so long.
Before passing judgment on Franklin for a three-game sample size, it is important to examine the reasons for his ineffective start to the season and look at how to combat it.
LOSS OF MOBILITY
Above, I touched on the one-wood of the power forwards – contested marking. It is the staple for players who position themselves at full forward and operate close to goal. Players like Tom Lynch, Jack Riewoldt, Aaron Naughton, and Harry McKay have buckets for hands, and love to take big clunks inside 50.
However, this is not Franklin’s fortė.
His main weapon was always his versatility and ability to get up the ground and double back toward goal. We all remember his amazing goals running down the wing, or leapfrogging players in the middle of the ground to bomb goals from inside the centre square. His feats of athleticism were just about unparalleled for a man his size, but without the ability to get up the ground and beat his opponent back toward goal, Franklin is a hell of a lot less effective.
It has meant that he needs to rely more on taking big marks, or being hit with perfect passes inside 50 for him to hit the scoreboard.
And in the era of team defence, unless the Swans can blow a team off the park and demoralise them, space inside 50 is a rare occurrence.
LOSS OF POWER
50 metres out on a 45 degree angle was the bread and butter kick for Lance Franklin. Distance was never an issue. He would arc out to the left on his run up, kick through the footy, and thump the ball through at half goalpost height.
However, in 2023, he has been unable to get that type of distance, with several of his shots at goal dropping short, or worse, hooking and spraying out of bounds on the full. Buddy is searching for the distance, but he is not finding it. His 36 year old legs are struggling for power, particularly after halftime.
Outside his incredible athleticism, covered above, Buddy’s ability to kick goals from 55+ metres was always a weapon that was difficult to combat. That was always the place on the ground where the space was.
Unfortunately, his efforts in 2023 to slot goals from that distance have been close to non-existent.
NO MORE RUNNING POWER
Have we seen Buddy blow past anyone on the lead this season? Have we seen him hit full pace and leave anyone in his wake?
If you have, make sure you let me know, because as far as I have seen, unless he gets perfect delivery, the defenders are able to close down his space and get a fist to the footy. With just six marks inside 50 over his three games, and four marks on the lead in total, he has been unable to create separation from his opponent for long enough to get a clean run at the footy.
When you combine this and factor it in with the two other issues highlighted above, it doesn’t leave a hell of a lot left in the arsenal, does it?
SO, WHAT ARE THE OPTIONS?
PLAY BUDDY FURTHER UP THE GROUND. MAYBE A WING?
It worked for Richo in the twilight of his career, right? In theory, this is a good idea. In practice, one word springs to mind.
That’ll be the sound of a hamstring giving way if Franklin is asked to start further up the ground and play a role that requires two-way running. We are at the point where the mind may be willing, but the body may be unable.
The vintage Franklin could get up to the wing or half-back and use that pace and tank to get back into a scoring position with ease… but the opponents are now younger, quicker, and fitter. There is no way he outruns a bloke like Sam Taylor or Dougal Howard. Zero.
PLAY HIM AT HALF FORWARD AND STATION MCDONALD AT FULL FORWARD.
Not the worst idea.
Buddy is still dangerous when he receives the footy by hand and can wind up from 50. We haven’t seen much of it this season, but in the right circumstance, Buddy curling around the back in order to launch on the run, with some momentum behind him, could give him that extra “oomph” required to travel the distance.
He’d have to resist the urge to push deep inside 50 in order to give McDonald the space he needs to operate, but Franklin would be one player you could not allow to drift around without a very solid opponent in touching distance.
At worst, he drags a potent defender away from the attacking 50.
BUDDY AS THE SUB
Geez… not sure how this would go over with the great man, but after deciding to go on again this season, he had to be aware that there may be a point where he would have to fight for his spot in the team.
A couple of years back, I remember wondering how Franklin would feel, sitting in the changeroom and looking across at Logan McDonald. It would have been like being reminded of your footy mortality – this was the guy drafted to replace him, and whilst 2021 Buddy was head and shoulders above Logan, I am not sure that is still the case.
Having Franklin come on fresh after halftime may be something that gives the Swans some of the bite they’re missing.
DOES HE PLAY VFL?
No. Flat out no – he doesn’t. You’d rather he rests for a weeks than runs around with the brumbies and gets hurt – that’s not the way you treat a thoroughbred.
THE WASH UP
What the Swans do with Franklin from here provides an incredible challenge for John Longmire and the club. This is a man that still has the capacity to turn a game in a five-minute blast of scintillating footy, but thus far in 2023, he has spent large portions of the game being a liability.
He is current averaging three free kicks against him per game, whilst his 1.3 goals per game is his lowest average since waaaaay back in 2005.
I expect two things to occur.
Firstly, I expect Buddy to be rested at some point in the next two weeks. As poor as he’s been thus far in 2023, he is not playing in this team to star in the home and away season. If he takes until August to find form, so be it.
Secondly, at some point before the bye, i expect him to come out, smash a team to bits and kick six goals, just to remind everyone just what he is capable of. And also to make articles like this seem ridiculous.
This likely will be Bud’s last season. You’d rather he walk away than be pushed, but sometimes, players need to be gently guided to see what is already apparent to others.
If my second expectation does not come to fruition, Sydney may have to make a hard call at some point.
My guess is that Franklin’s play may just make it an easy decision for them, whichever way it plays out.
They say you should never doubt the heart of a champion. But in this case, you might be able to get away with doubting his legs.
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