The opera of Lance Franklin is unending.
By now you know what I’m talking about. The giant prehistoric-like strides, the sureness of hands, the deadly and long left boot, the way he scissors his way through traffic to win the ball, the celebratory arms-out, crowd-facing gestures that asks ‘are you not entertained?’
It’s been 581 days since we were entertained by Franklin. He returned to the AFL over the weekend and a whole range of thoughts came along with it.
Against the Crows it was a renewed excitement to see Lance Franklin on the team sheet again. But that was only the beginning. The Mick Jagger strut was back. The flair. The wheel-and-go. He kicked 3.2, which included a mark on the lead and a classic 55-metre set shot. The Swans won their second game this year. It was like he had never left.
But it’s hard to ignore how much time Franklin has been out of the game for. For one, it’s the longest period of time in his career he’s missed. The 199-centimetre forward, arguably the game’s greatest goal-kicker, last trotted out for a kick with the Swans on August 24, 2019, when he kicked 4.2 and inhaled ten marks against the Saints.
That same year he missed eight weeks. The Swans haven’t been the same without him.
The last three games Franklin played in 2019 he booted 4.2 (Saints), 4.0 (Hawks) and 5.4 (Eagles). They were all wins. Before that, he helped the Swans play finals every year since he joined the club in 2014, but they haven’t been there since Franklin has been injured, which was most of 2019 and 2020 in its entirety.
In those years the Swans finished 15th and 16th. It speaks volumes about what he brings to the team and how important it is to have a reliable, athletic, superstar forward that has the ability to finish off.
It’s been a while since Franklin last featured in finals footy. He was part of the Swans team that lost by 49 to the Giants in the 2018 elimination final when he had five touches and finished the day with 0.1.
When we think of the Buddy Franklin glory days, we think of the Hawks’ three-peat where he went into battle with Luke Hodge and Sam Mitchell. We lived through the Hawks dynasty full of prestige and little fatigue.
Now, under John Longmire’s rebuild, finals aren’t a guarantee but are not impossible after a 2-0 start. Franklin’s return gives him a chance to nurture and mentor future forwards of the Swans, but also inspire a new generation that might not have seen his bag of tricks on TV. But first things first: he needs to adjust to just being Lance Franklin.
The most obvious thing to say at this point is that the AFL dearly missed Franklin. Although we can get our fixes on the spectacular through Dustin Martin and players like Eddie Betts each week, there’s just no replacing Franklin.
If you think about it, we all spent years getting sick of the Hawthorn flags because they were skillful and well-drilled. But what eased the boredom of their success was Franklin.
Most likely we’ve all seen him do something miraculous live, and yes, his goals from the impossible in full flight are the most entertaining things you’ll ever see on the field.
But just as impressive is how he double-backs, swings, drops, and loops around the ground searching for ways to hunt his prey. And then it gets to a point where he seizes a loose ball, handles it for a fleeting moment, and sinks one from 65 metres without flinching. Then the giant smile appears.
It’s hard to think of where Franklin sits with the modern AFL. A lot has happened in the two years since he’s been on the sidelines. The game has changed for forwards.
But the tools he carries with him still apply and although he’s no longer a rare genius, and perhaps he’s a little slower off the mark, he’s still the godfather of goal kicking with dancing feet, an immaculate set shot action, and elusive jaguar-like movement, which fuses into the new wave of footy.
And although we’ve grieved Franklin’s absence – there was probably a point where I thought he’d retire – his spirit has been with us in Tom Hawkins, Josh Kennedy, and at his best, Joe Daniher.
At 34, Franklin has reached the twilight of his career. The Swans are rebuilding but look to have an exciting group of kids who have impressed in the first two weeks of this season – Logan McDonald, Errol Gulden, Braeden Campbell.
Who knows if Franklin’s return will help take his club to lofty heights. With the likes of Josh Kennedy, Luke Parker, Jake Lloyd and Isaac Heeney, at the very best, they could be finals contenders.
Sadly, though, we’ve lived through the best of Franklin and the long runs along the wing and freakish all-round athleticism. But he’s still a thrill to watch. Every time he touches the ball something magic happens.
After the Crows game he was seen hugging teammates. He was waving to Swans fans. He had a larger-than-large smile on his face. He looked like he missed the big show: the goals, the wins, the fans, his teammates. He was asked about the new man-on-the-mark rule and said: “The leading forward is back, that’s for sure.”
He sure is. Welcome back, Buddy.