A shudder went through the Sydney camp when Lance Franklin gingerly ran to the bench, nursing a strained hamstring.
He is their marquee man, their superstar, and on the eve of his 300th game, the timing could not be worse.
After standing on the boundary, waiting for the opportunity to return to the ground for what seemed like an eternity, Franklin saw a chance to get involved in the play immediately, and sprinted to the forward line to capitalise on a forward 50 entry. Unsuccessful, he positioned himself in the familiar role of main target for the next entry.
And just like that, his night done and dusted. With play stuck on the opposite side of the ground, those big legs cooled down while Buddy was standing on the boundary, and when you’re the wrong side of 30, heavier than you’ve ever been, and restricted in your preparation, you have a recipe for disaster.
As the long ball came into the pocket, Franklin pulled up short, feeling that now all-too familiar feeling of a twinge in that big hamstring. Celebrations for game 300 were put on hold, and serious questions are now being asked about that mythical 1000-goal mark looming on the horizon. You could be forgiven for thinking there was an air of doom and gloom in Sydney around the situation.
But that is far from the case.
As Franklin sat on the bench icing his hamstring, the Swans got another glimpse into a very bright future, with Nick Blakey stepping to the fore, doing the things Swans fans are used to seeing Buddy do.
And then some.
Pack marking has never been the strong suit of Lance Franklin – it is more something left to the Sam Reid and Tom McCartin types of the team, however a young Swan, in just game 12 was the one who filled the Franklin void, and the smiles quickly returned to the faces of Swans fans.
I wrote earlier in the year about how it must feel to see your replacement develop right before your eyes. Imagine you rock into work on Monday and at the desk next to you is a kid who looks like he could do your job pretty well. Not only is he being groomed to replace you – he appears as though he is ready to start doing parts of your job already. You could almost start feeling a little redundant as your own abilities start to falter.
Such is the case in Sydney right now as Nick Blakey emerges as a genuine force to be reckoned with.
He will still have moments that bring him back to earth, such as he had in the second quarter, where nerves got the best of him and he dropped an uncontested mark 30 metres out from goal, but he more than made up for it in the last quarter.
When the Swans needed someone to stand up, it was the young bloke who did so. A towering mark against Ben McEvoy and James Sicily preceded a goal that gave the Swans breathing space, and a second goal late in the term maintained a strong position for the Harbour City team. Blakey become the forward target the Swans were missing, and he did it in a style that you simply cannot ignore.
A strong contested grab against the wily Shaun Burgoyne and another rugged contested win against Ricky Henderson was probably enough for the Swans recruiting department to start slapping themselves on the back, and enough for other teams to wonder why they didn’t bid on this kid earlier in the draft. Yes, this kid was worth all the time and effort at the academy – he has been pretty good here and there this season, but in the last quarter, Nick Blakey demonstrated why many believe he will be THE forward of the next generation.
With his hunched shoulders and loping run, he is reminiscent of a young Wayne Carey.
Don’t laugh. Through his first dozen games, Carey averaged 11.75 disposals and 0.9 goals. Blakey is at nine disposals per game, and 0.9 goals as well. Carey came into the league with a body made for AFL footy, whereas Blakey has a fair bit of bulk to pack on. However, the signs are there, and the signs are great! Franklin sat right at 0.9 goals per game through his first games as well. Things are going along nicely.
Big players stand up in big moments. It was a hallmark of the early years of Wayne Carey, his on-field leadership apparent to all and sundry who watched him play, and watching Nick Blakey now, you cannot help but be taken by the way he thrust himself into the action when his team needed him.
At a time when lamentation would be totally acceptable in the wake of the Lance Franklin injury, there is a definite feeling of buoyancy about the Sydney Swans. Their own King may be ailing, but a prince is ready and waiting to take the crown.
Nick Blakey may never reach the lofty heights of Lance Franklin or Wayne Carey, but for a brief moment at the SCG against the Hawks, you could be forgiven for thinking that anything is possible. His towering pack mark, his one-on-one wins, and his ability to find the ball and use it well are the hallmarks of a star in the making.
How brightly that star will shine in the coming weeks, months and years remains to be seen, but for now, it’s shining perfectly fine.
The 300th game celebrations for Lance Franklin can wait a few weeks. Buddy will have to be patient. In the meantime, there’s a new show in town, and it’s starring Nick Blakey.
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