I waited nearly all year for it to happen, and in the end it didn’t.
Lance Franklin, poised on 118 games for Sydney, needed to play only one game to make the top 100 list at the Swans and join an illustrious group of players who have achieved the double trifecta: top 100 game players and goal scorers at two different clubs and AFL/VFL. If he had played that one game he would have joined 1950s fullback and Brownlow medallist Fred Goldsmith and tough 1960s defender Paul Harrison, recruited from Traralgon in equal 99th position on Sydney’s top 100 game-players list.
In the end, he was gazumped by Harry Cunningham, who – in his ninth year at the Swans – was able to string together 17 games in 2020 and climb from outside the top 100 to equal 86th on the list with homegrown Sydneysider Greg Stafford. Cunningham joined five other Sydney top 100 game players, headed up by Josh Kennedy, grandson of Hawthorn great John J Kennedy and son of John D Kennedy who between them played 405 games for the Hawks.
Josh Kennedy added another 13 games to the Hawthorn total before being allowed to go to Sydney in a move that Alastair Clarkson described as the “one that got away”. At Sydney, Kennedy is only one game away from gaining top-ten player status and five games away from his 250th game for the Swans. Now 32 years old, Kennedy managed only 12 games in 2020, and it will be interesting to see if his body can stand the rigours of another full season as a vital cog in the Sydney machine.
On the other hand, number two current game-player on the list is 27-year-old Luke Parker, who is 29th on the top 100 games played list and still in the type of form that suggests he may play on well into his 30s.
The newsworthy Dane Rampe currently lies in 46th place equal with Barry Mitchell, father of the current Hawthorn champion Tom Mitchell, and Craig Bolton who played in the first decade of this century. Jake Lloyd is another 27-year-old who has a lot of football in front of him and currently sits on the list equal with Austin Robertson, a star in the 1920s and 1930s, and one game ahead of teammate Sam Reid, the brother of the recently retired magpie Ben.
As well as Buddy (who still only needs one game but will sit equal 100th then), three others could also make the Sydney top 100 game-players list are the skilful Isaac Heeney and two players who are only one game away from playing their 100th game for the Swans – George Hewett and Tom Papley. George Hewett’s 2020 season unfortunately ended after he had played his best game of the year in Round 7. Hewett turns 26 in January next year, but the 2019 runner-up best and fairest will be looking for a good season in 2021 as will Tom Papley. Papley is the grandson of Max Papley, a star at the Swans in the 1960s.
All eyes will be on Buddy’s goalkicking skills when he returns. Ranked in the top-ten goal scorers at Sydney, Hawthorn and the AFL, Franklin needs only 56 goals to become the newest (and possibly last) member of the 1000 goal club – an milestone achieved by only five players in the history of the VFL/AFL, but his initial target will be to pass number six on the list, Richmond legend Jack Titus.
Although the Swans have a remarkable five other goal centurions on their current list – Luke Parker (161), Sam Reid (159), Josh Kennedy (147), Tom Papley (146) and Isaac Heeney (112) (and Will Hayward became a top 100 player in the second last round of 2020) – there is no doubt that the goal scoring power of a fit and in-form Buddy Franklin would hugely increase the likelihood of the Swans being in the mix for a finals position in 2021.
The question is, at the age of 34 will he still have that explosive power and speed that has characterised his career so far? Only time will tell.
When the AFL introduced the concept of the northern academies it was the Sydney Swans that were the most enthusiastic, growing the game in New South Wales from its inception in 2010 to ten hubs up and down the coast from Coffs Harbour to Woollongong.
This fourth part of the six-part series comprises five players that the Sydney Swans, West Coast Eagles and Western Bulldogs could least afford to lose in season 2021 plus a pre-draft honourable mention.