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Buddy boots his way into the pantheon of greats

Lance Franklin of the Swans celebrates after scoring a goal. (AAP Image/David Moir)
Expert
27th March, 2018
34
1377 Reads

We need to talk about Buddy. His opening game of the new season was late on Sunday, in faraway Perth, and since it finished Steve Smith and co. have monopolised the headlines.

In fact, unless you live in Sydney, you’d hardly know Lance Franklin kicked… how many was it? Eight!

So, yes, we definitely need to talk about Buddy.

We need to talk about the fact that, now in his 32nd year, he’s still winning games and wowing crowds with his brilliance. We need to talk about the fact that he’s doing this despite, at an earlier time, appearing more likely to be meteoric than inveterate.

We need to talk about the fact that at a time when commentators are lamenting the death of the high-scoring key-forward, Buddy is very much alive. And we need to talk about the fact that this year he might win a fifth Coleman Medal and become the first man to achieve that feat.

Yes, the first to do it! It’s a fascinating quirk of football history that no one has won more than four.

The award struck in honour of the great, but tragic, Essendon high-flyer of the early post-war period only goes back to the year of John Coleman’s enforced retirement. If it went further back, the ‘Phenomenon of Windy Hill’ would’ve won his own medal five times!

The first ‘Coleman’ was awarded in 1981, then in 2004 it was decided to present medals retrospectively, dating back to 1955. Thus, the first Coleman Medallist is Geelong’s Noel Rayson.

It verges on haunting that, in more than 60 years since, not one of the great full-forwards to have graced the game has done as Coleman did: top the home-and-away goalkicking five times. And bear in mind that Coleman played only five full seasons!

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Fate and time have seen to it that the champion Bomber continues to stand alone. Amazing, really, given that Peter Hudson and Doug Wade re-invented the 100-goal season in the late-1960s; that Tony Lockett and Jason Dunstall duelled in the ‘80s and ‘90s; and that Gary Ablett senior became a full-forward and booted a lazy thousand sausage rolls before he was done.

Of course, Hudson – just like Coleman – would have kicked many more centuries had he not injured a knee. Instead of collecting four retrospective medals he might have won as many as nine. Perhaps Wade would have won another Coleman or two had there been no Hudson (or Peter McKenna). Just as Lockett, Dunstall, and Ablett didn’t win more because their careers coincided.

But that’s the competitiveness and crazy fortune of sport. As it is, Hudson, Wade, and Lockett won four Coleman Medals each. And, last year, Lance Franklin joined that trio of greats.

Lance Franklin Sydney Swans AFL Indigenous Round 2017 tall

AAP Image/David Moir

While his goal-per-game rate is well below those of the other three, Buddy deserves to be in their company. For he’s playing in a very different era; one in which the business of kicking goals is much more challenging than in days gone by.

And he, with his amazing athleticism and bag of tricks, is more able than any of his contemporaries to kick them.

Having begun this season on 860 career goals, Buddy could conceivably achieve ‘the thousand’ next year. He would be the sixth to do it and the only one of that six to have achieved the mark while none of his goal-kicking peers was managing a hundred in a season. Even Franklin has been able to do it only once.

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Yes, the goals have dried up.

Recently, the question has been asked as to how the game’s greatest goal-scorer, Tony Lockett, would fare today. The partial answer, surely, is that he would have to be a very different style of footballer from the one who kicked 1360 goals for the Saints and Swans. So, we don’t know how he would go today. The same applies to Hudson, although Gary Ablett – we know – would have found a way.

All of which means that, while the numbers don’t quite show it, Lance Franklin is up there with the legends. He continues to endure, he continues to thrill, he continues to influence matches, and he will continue to secure his place among the great goal-scorers.

He will, in other words, ensure we continue to talk about Buddy.