After the Sydney Swans meekly capitulated to Geelong in their 2017 season finale, the despair on Lance Franklin's face was evident. It was another lost year for Franklin, and for Sydney. Both were hungry for a premiership, and appeared poised to claim one.
It was a contest that demonstrated the flexibility of their opponents, and the willingness of Geelong coach, Chris Scott to make changes. It also highlighted the limitations of the weary Swans, and their own coach’s apparent lack of a Plan B.
Commentators and experts beat the public over the head for the few weeks prior with facts about how far the Swans had come this season. Yes, yes, the Swans were winless in their first six games. Yes, the only team to beat them since that initial losing streak was Hawthorn. Yes again, they looked unstoppable. But all seemingly unstoppable teams, inevitably, are stopped. No one wins forever. Dynasties end, win streaks are halted, and dream runs can turn to nightmares with one unfavourable result.
Geelong powerhouse, Patrick Dangerfield, went forward and kicked four goals, and easily could’ve had seven. Mitch Duncan continued to establish himself as very worthy of being included in a Geelong ‘Big 3’ discussion along with Dangerfield and Joel Selwood. Even Steven Motlop caused more than a few critics to bite their tongues with his hard running.
In the meantime, Sydney looked flat. Franklin, fresh off tearing the hapless Essendon Bombers to shreds with a four goal second quarter the week before, was hobbled. The corked thigh he received the previous week clearly hampered him all game. His fourteen touches were below his season average, and his 0.3 return hurt his team. Wearing what looked to be a small child’s mattress on his thigh, his injury resulted in a less than stellar output. This was compounded by Harry Taylor’s excellent defensive efforts.
More concerning was his supporting cast. Only two Swans appeared in the top twelve disposal winners; the ever-reliable Dan Hannebery, and Kieren Jack. Josh Kennedy and Luke Parker, who make up the rest of the Sydney engine room, were well down on their regular performances. They picked a bad day to have a bad day.
After the 2013 premiership, Lance Franklin waved goodbye to Hawthorn, packing his bags, in the eyes of most, for Greater Western Sydney. Instead, Franklin sent shockwaves through the football world with a sharp turn towards the other team in the harbour city. Franklin wanted more premierships, and thought that hitching his wagon to the Swans was the best way to capture them.
After making the top four in 2013, they succumbed first to the Hawks in the Qualifying Final, and then to Fremantle in the Prelim two weeks later.
They came tantalisingly close in 2014, marching through Fremantle and North Melbourne, before again crashing back to earth against the Hawks on the biggest stage in football. Franklin was one of the Swans’ best players on that day, snagging 4.2, but was forced to watch his former teammates claim their second premiership since his departure.
2015 saw the Swans, without Franklin, dumped out of the finals in straight sets with losses to Fremantle and North Melbourne in consecutive weeks.
He was up and running again in 2016, some believing he was in career-best form. After losing to cross-town rivals, Greater Western Sydney in the first week of the finals, the Swans rebounded with do-or-die wins over Adelaide and Geelong, securing another opportunity at a premiership. Again they were to fall short; the fairy tale story of the inspired Western Bulldogs saw the Swans finish runner up for the second time in three years.
With the book now closed on the 2017 season, and the Richmond Tigers holding the cup aloft after 37 years in the wilderness, Franklin finds himself in a very awkward position. Despite playing some good, some great, and on occasion some breathtaking football over the past four years, the move north is not panning out the way he envisioned. In fact, Franklin has now played in more losing Grand Final teams than winning ones.
The Hawthorn teammates he left behind have twice as many flags under their belts than he has. Whilst he joined the powerful Swans in 2014, the spurned GWS team has steadily improved. After two consecutive preliminary final losses, the Giants are poised to make a strong run in 2018. How good would they have been with Buddy patrolling the forward fifty?
Franklin may have fooled the world after the 2013 AFL season when he picked the third of two options (thank you, Dennis Cometti) and signed with Sydney, but it may turn out that he has fooled himself. He has had his own issues to deal with and, despite adding two more Coleman medals to his trophy case, and taking his all-time goalkicking numbers above 800, that third premiership medallion remains elusive.
Buddy will be 30 before the start of the 2018 season with five seasons remaining on his ground breaking contract. Whilst he remains an amazing athlete, capable of the incredible at times, it is unrealistic to expect him to retain the level of athleticism he’s demonstrated throughout his twenties. He has improved his overhead marking at Sydney; the one thing Hawthorn fans felt he did not have in his repertoire early in his career, but with almost half his contract behind him, will he prove to be value for money for the Swans long term? The financials say… maybe.
Since Buddy’s signing, the Swans membership numbers have increased from 36,369 in 2013 to 58,838 for 2017. It’s an outstanding result, and having a star the likes of Franklin to market does make a difference. That increase, combined with additional merchandising, would have any bookkeeper smiling. However, there’s only one thing that’ll put a smile back on the faces of the Swans’ fans. Are they really getting value for money?
If value is measured in premierships, they’re currently being short changed. Four years down, five to go. A flag-less tenure in Sydney for Buddy Franklin can only be termed a failure.