The key forward. A sometimes hulking, stoic figure. Sometimes an agile, speedy individual.
Either way, they can turn the game for a club with the kick of a goal or the clunk of a pack mark. What makes them so special? Why aren’t midfielders or even small forwards the most attractive position?
Well obviously defenders don’t heavily feature in the highlight reels or are the main reason tickets are bought to games.
To answer that question we just need to look back at history. Wayne Carey aka the King, Gary Ablett Senior aka the God, Tony Jason Dunstall, Tony Lockett. These guys are legendary key forwards of the 90s who are remembered better than all the champion midfielders of the same era such as Peter Matera, Robert Harvey and Greg Williams – because they kick goals.
They bring the crowds. They are the most loved players because traditionally and still, the key forwards get more goals than small forwards.
Small forwards, while skillful to a large extent, just don’t possess similar longevity. Of the past 30 years you can say that Eddie Betts and perhaps Chris Lewis were champions of the position. That’s it.
There has been many great key forwards who have brought success to their clubs. Carey, Ablett, Lockett and the like defined the 90s for their combined success and continued dominance. The 2000s produced barely a scratch on this. Matthew Lloyd was great but not Carey great.
Jack Riewoldt, David Neates can’t even be considered as worthy of remembrance. The only true talent was Buddy Franklin and the greatest part of his career is arguably in the 2010s. So that brings me to the crux of this article.
After the absence of true great key position forwards in the 2000s are we finally back to the dominance and beauty they gave the game 25 years ago? I would say we finally are.
The obvious starter to this argument is Buddy Franklin. Who for the purposes of this article, we will call the Tank. He plays like nothing we have seen before in AFL. Yes, he is still a key forward. He just has ridiculous speed and strength and a booming kick that can turn a game. Successive Coleman Medals, all Australian jumpers and two premierships from the two greatest clubs of the last fifteen years. Legend.
This article wouldn’t have been written if not for the key forward on the list who I will nickname the Hulk. Josh J. Kennedy is the best traditional key forward in the AFL and has been for at least four years.
He reminds of the 90s more than anymore and his leads, contested marking and accurate set shots represent what Buddy doesn’t do. Together they now regularly vie for the trophy of the best key forward in the AFL. He too has successive Colemans and All Australian and is the most important for a club that seems destined to win a premiership in the coming years.
What did you say? There’s more. Many more.
Tom J. Lynch is the most important player for the Gold Coast Suns and in the infancy of his career, already has an all Australian jumper, a best and fairest and the captaincy of one of the AFL’s expansion clubs. He plays well and his club survives. He has claims to overtaking the aforementioned two champions and it seems right that someone from Gold Coast should do it. I give him the nickname the Machine.
Leading the pack of other notable key forwards in the comp right now is Taylor Walker aka the Cheetah. While not having many accolades he is still a club great and surely will receive all Australian at some point for his club. He actually should have received it in 2015 instead of Riewoldt but that’s another story. He covers the ground like a pure warrior and arguably would be considered an AFL great if not for Kennedy and Franklin.
Nick Riewoldt is also another one. Arguably the prime of his career is right now as he guides his young club to their first finals appearance since 2010. A legend in the purest form.
But who else? Well there is Jack Riewoldt (still) and Tom Hawkins who are both severely over-rated. Hawkins has been carried by champion teams all his career and Riewoldt’s personal career has been elevated due to the Tigers simply not being able to recruit a decent second tall for about a decade.
They can consider themselves lucky to be a part of an era of key forwards of the calibre of Kennedy, Franklin, Lynch and Walker. Jarryd Roughead is also a true champ but unfortunately hasn’t had the chance to capitalise on unmistakeable talent and power.
Other key forwards to rise up include Charlie Dixon, Tim Membrey, Darcy Moore and of course Jesse Hogan as well half the GWS forward line. These guys will continue this prolonged era and may even be better than some of these pure champs.
The GWS talls such as Jeremy Cameron, Jonathan Patton and Rory Lob haven’t even scratched the surface as to their talent which is very, very scary. Rory Lobb’s almost hateful scorn during matches disguises the fact that he is a pure talent and perhaps shouldn’t ruck for GWS at all.
Overall, the impact of these twelve-ish champs can’t be measured totally on goals in comparison to the greats 25 years ago. The game has grown continually more defensive and so goals have become rarer.
However these champs excel at this also with any continually stating that they focus on this even before goals. But the goals do come just at a lesser rate (marginally). They still save games for teams and when they don’t play their best, their teams don’t necessarily play as well.
Just think back to Round 2 this year when Josh Kennedy single-handedly towed his team over the line with three last quarter goals and two goal square plucks against a defender who thought, wrongly, that he had played a good game.
When Gold Coast beat teams convincingly, Tom Lynch pops up with six or seven – as can be seen from their rout of Carlton last round with Lynch spearheading their attack with seven majors. And these are only two examples from a month of footy. Think about the last seven years of this decade and the fact that its barely over.
We will never properly know which group was better or worse but it was worth considering the impact of the current group and realising that their contributions are very significant and do compare somewhat.
My tip for this year’s Coleman? Definitely not Hawkins. Probably Kennedy or Lynch.