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Breaking The Unbreakable

Mark Spitz is an American swimming champion who is best known for holding the record of winning seven gold medals at the 1972 Summer Olympics. His record; widely regarded as 'unbreakable' by many, was quoted by one media outlet as "an untouchable moment etched in history, the likes of which shall never be repeated".

36 years later Mark witnessed a bloke by the name of Michael Phelps break his record and claim eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympic Games.

Fast forward to 2019 and you have Lance Franklin sitting square on 928 goals from 295 games with a career average of 3.14 goals per game. Realistically, is he the only current AFL player likely to top 1000 career goals in the next 10 years? The next 20 years? Ever?

The current state of the AFL is changing at a rapid rate. Annual rule changes ensure that each season greatly differs from the last. Many would say that the entire landscape of the game has changed greatly, even within the last decade. Players, coaches and staff must adapt to these changes, and we as fans and paid up members can do nothing but sit back and ride the roller coaster of metamorphosis. In recent times there has been drastic changes to fundamental parts of our great game. Some have arguably been for the better. Some, many believe have changed the game for the worse.

But is this shift causing bigger long-term changes? Are we going to see more and more 'unbreakable' records remain unbroken? Some records speak for themselves.

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In 1949 a 20 year old made his debut for Essendon, kicking 12 of his side's 18 goals in a 63 point belting of Hawthorn. A medal named in his honour is bestowed upon the league's highest goalkicker for each season; the Coleman Medal. The closest anyone has come since was Warren Ralph, who kicked nine in his debut game in 1984. Compare that to today, the most goals kicked on debut by a current listed AFL player is four, a record held jointly by Brody Mihocek and Ryan Nyhuis.

Will we see more and more records stay unachievable with the ever-changing formats of football? Can anyone break Gary Ablett Jr's 248* career Brownlow votes record? His closest threats are teammates Joel Selwood on 195*, and Patrick Dangerfield on 182*. Is this a more likely record to see beaten than Tony Lockett's 1360 career goals?

Surely in such a possession dominated era, we are more likely to see someone break Tom Mitchell's recent record of 54 disposals in a game, than we are of Fred Fanning's record of scoring 18.1 in a game. Likewise, is any team playing current AFL likely to kick a higher score than the 37-17-239 record that Geelong kicked in 1992?

At the opposite ends of the scale, which record is more likely to be broken; Peter McKenna kicking at least a goal in 121 straight games, or Ted Potter playing 182 games with no goals?

(*numbers are accurate as of the end of 2018 season)

Only time will tell. No one knows how our game will look in 10 years time. Perhaps in the year 2049 we will have a high scoring brand of football again. Perhaps later starts to careers and tougher rigours of training and fitness demands will make it less likely to see players reach 300 games, falling well short of Brent Harvey's record of 432, or even Jim Stynes' record of 244 straight games. We will almost certainly never see another 15 year old debut as Tim Watson did, or someone play into their 40s as Dustin Fletcher did.

It's a trend that's unpredictable in itself, even more so not knowing what the future holds for our great game. With Buddy well on track to reach 1000 goals in his career, it's easy to think what else is possible? What other long standing AFL records will we see tumble?

On his way home from Munich in 1972, Mark Spitz was quoted saying - "Life is true to form; records are meant to be broken." But did he really think that his record would ever be broken? Did he really expect to witness his 'unbreakable', be broken?

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