A simple question with a less-than-simple answer.
Buddy is without a doubt the best forward of the 21st century. He’s the last man to kick 100 goals in a season – inside the home-and-away season no less – multiple Coleman medals, multiple premierships, eight All Australian guernseys, including the captaincy in 2018. Currently sitting on 944 goals, he’s just 56 goals away from joining a club as rarefied as the 400-game club and, maybe, the triple Brownlow club.
But will he actually get those 56 goals? Scoring 56 goals for anyone half as talented as Buddy Franklin would be chump change even in this low-scoring era, but it’s more complicated than that. A thousand goals is a bloody lot of goals. It requires a combination of skill, luck and longevity. All traits are indispensable. It’s no coincidence that the five members of the 1000-goal club have had all three.
I don’t see him getting there, and I’m going to outline three reasons why.
1. His body is starting to fail. Quickly
Buddy is 33.5 years old. Garry Ablett was 35 years old when he hit the target but retired having played fewer than 250 games. Buddy will have played by far the most games of anyone in the club, and the body is starting to show wear and tear.
He’s been unusually gifted in avoiding injuries for most of his career, tending to miss games either through suspensions or minor niggles. But now the injuries are starting to be more severe and are taking longer to heal. He’s very, very unlikely to play in 2020 and frankly looks like the type of player who will need to be managed throughout a season rather than play week in and week out. It’s highly probable he’s going to be a Gary Ablett Junior style player now and be strategically rested.
At his current goals-per-game average he would require 19 matches to kick the remaining 56 goals. Nineteen games as an injury-free 28-year-old? No problem. Nineteen games with his body and being 34? That’s going to take longer than 19 games back to back and is likely to extend into 2022 even iF he could stay injury-free. He just won’t be able to play a 22-game season any more. He’ll need managing.
He’s played 300 games, and just on pure goals per game he’s going to bring up 1000 on game 319. That will be at least 75 games slower than when Ablett and Doug Wade reached the figure, 80-odd games slower than Gorgon Coventry and 100 games slower than Tony Lockett and Jason Dunstall. That’s between three and 4.5 seasons more football in Buddy’s legs and he’s still not at 1000. Buddy has played more games than all but Coventry and has kicked the fewest goals.
Unfortunately for Buddy, he’s already a forward, so the Swans have to rule out the ‘rest him in the forward line’ tactic clubs do for other players. Nor can Buddy camp himself in the square. His one true weakness is the contested pack mark. His greatness is due to him roaming the arc and slotting goals from all angles out there. He won’t be able to do that with a 34-to-35-year-old body and stay uninjured.
Fifty-six goals seem like a lot. Time is against him.
2. Sydney are rubbish
Fifty-six goals should be chump change for any full-forward in a competitive team, but Sydney are not competitive at the moment. They are rubbish. Injuries have not helped them, but their best 22 is not a winning 22 either. All expectations are that Sydney will spend 2021 out of the finals as well and be a 12-to-18-placed club. One inescapable truth of being a poor-performing club is that scoring opportunities are limited. That’s just more bad news for a player that even in good times didn’t exactly hit the scoreboard hard.
Even if by some miracle Buddy remains fully fit and firing in 2021, Sydney just aren’t going to be racking up the inside-50s and providing Buddy with plentiful opportunities to score. In the 21st century, in a poor team, the leading goal kicker is lucky to rack up 50 goals – heck, even in a good team like Collingwood the leading goal kicker will be lucky to kick 20 goals – which means Buddy will in all likelihood be needing to play in 2022 as a 35-year-old to get to 1000 goals, and that brings us back to the first point.
Injuries plus a poor Sydney team equals more time needed for Buddy to kick 56 goals. And time is very much the enemy of Buddy Franklin.
3. It’s very hard to kick 1000 goals
I mentioned above how hard it is to kick 1000 goals. We got lucky by seeing three people pass the figure in the 1990s and probably took it for granted. Outside that freak decade, we appreciate how hard it really, really is. You need a combination of skill, longevity and luck for the entire duration of your career. Every game. Full-forwards tend not to be 300-gamers. They start to fall away big time from 260 games onward. It’s happened time and time again.
There’s no doubt about Buddy’s skill. He’s taking longevity to the next level for a full-forward – as mentioned above, he’s played more games than all but Coventry so far. But conversely, the more games he plays, the more risk he exposes himself to a career-ending injury. It’s a true catch 22 situation for him.
On the subject of luck, all five of the players who kicked 1000 goals were bestowed with plentiful levels of luck. With the exception of Lockett, all were fortunate to be playing in very good, competitive teams. Coventry, Dunstall, Wade and Ablett all played in teams that were either winning flags or making grand finals for fun. In short, they had lots of opportunities to kick goals. Lockett may not have played in many good teams, but he compensated by being incredibly accurate at goal and very rarely had a bad game. He was also lucky in that he was just outrageously nimble for his size.
But Buddy has probably run out of luck at the worst possible time. The injuries are taking longer to heal, they are more frequent, he’s getting on for a full-forward, plus he’s now found himself for the first time in his career in a genuinely poor team. He’s spent the vast majority of his career in a team that was minimum a Week 2 finals team. He’s played five grand finals. How will he go when the well has run dry and the clock on his career is ticking to an end?
To understand just how hard it is to kick 1000 goals, consider that for each of the five who got there, you could pair them up with another equally gifted footballer who couldn’t.
Father Time got the best of Jack Titus. Retired at 36 a mere 26 goals short. Richmond just wouldn’t play him anymore. He’s unlucky. In a 22-round home-and-away season he’d have soared over 1000, but he played in the 18-game era. He was around for a long time but just not long enough.
Time and injuries beat Matthew Lloyd as well. He was probably 30 games or a good year short.
Peter McKenna had prodigious skills but didn’t have the longevity or luck. A freak kidney injury turned him into a ghost of what he used to be. He kicked goals for fun and otherwise would have smashed 1000 goals as well.
John Coleman probably would have kicked a million goals if his body could have coped. Peter Hudson kicked goals faster than Jeff Bezos makes money. But every time he did, his knee he would flee back to the TFL (and kick comically large totals). He never got to 1000 VFL/AFL goals as a result. Injuries robbed Tony Modra of a chance – not to mention two premiership medals – but in his pomp he was unstoppable. Has a higher goals-per-game average than Buddy.
Bob Pratt traded longevity for honour by joining up to fight in World War II. He would have unquestionably kicked 1000 goals and broken Gordon Coventry’s record otherwise.
Although he did kick 1000 goals, Jason Dunstall saw what happened when any one of the skills, luck and injury traits disappear. He was a near certainty to break Coventry’s record until the injuries hit. Eight and 13 hobbled games in his final two years, along with Hawthorn finally being a poor team, put paid to that. He retired 45 goals short of the record.
The point is that 1000-plus goals is an exceptionally rare achievement that not even some of the very best have managed. And that’s before we consider the challenge of doing so in a ruinously low-scoring era.
Buddy for 300 games had that balance of skill, longevity and luck. However, Buddy’s luck has run out, and Father Time will beat him before he gets to the mark.
But I hope I’m wrong. Pitch invasions are practically extinct. It would be good to see one last one take place.