A lot of love for Buddy

There was seemingly endless positivity after the first few weeks of the 2016 AFL season; the Roos and Suns were flying, Essendon won a game long before anyone thought they would, and we had game after game of high-scoring, entertaining footy. That early positivity has largely evaporated as the injury curse has struck the Suns yet again, reigning Brownlow Medallist Nat Fyfe is out for the season, the Dons and Lions look to be the easybeats many predicted, and the football world has been rocked by Jarryd Roughead’s cancer battle. Even stories that should be nothing but positive – namely the Kangaroos 9-0 record and the Giants incredible form – have been marred by nagging doubts, either regarding the Kangaroos easy fixtures or the concessions given to GWS by the AFL when it came to building their list to where they are today.

The shining light this season – and a much-needed one at that – has been the return of Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin; to both the footy field and the top of the Coleman Medal chart.

When Buddy stepped away from football on the eve of the 2015 finals series to deal with an ongoing mental health condition, sections of the public turned to rumour and innuendo rather than sympathy (as you might expect). The football media was, by and large, respectful, especially when you compare it to the treatment of Melbourne great Garry Lyon. These are vastly different situations and compare the two would be unfair but, in terms of mental health, they are two sides of the same coin. Buddy missed the entire finals series, the Swans were eliminated with barely a whimper, and conversation turned to whether their superstar would return and if he would ever be the same player.

We need not have worried.

Buddy has kicked 37 goals in the first nine games of the 2016 season to lead both Josh Kennedy and Tom Lynch by five majors in the race for the Coleman Medal. It has been the nature of the goals kicked, rather than the volume, that has been most impressive. The long bomb from 60m; on the run from 80m; the set shots from 50 on ‘the wrong side for a left-footer’- Buddy has done it all in 2016 and he’s done it with a smile.

The Swans, at 7-2, are equal-favourites for this year’s premiership alongside Geelong. In the pre-season they were slated at double-figure odds, behind the likes of Fremantle and Port Adelaide, and only marginally ahead of Richmond.

The Swans host the only unbeaten side remaining, North Melbourne, on Friday night in a fixture that will reveal a lot about the credentials of both teams. As a largely pessimistic society many have taken the “who have they beaten?” view with regards to North Melbourne, ignoring the obvious “every team they have been fixtured to play” answer. Similarly, on the eve of last Friday’s blockbuster against Hawthorn, Wayne Carey accused the Swans of being overly-reliant on Buddy when they attack.

When you have someone averaging four goals per game it would be reasonable to consider them reliable, right?

Carey has a point, in that the Swans target Franklin when going inside 50 a lot more than the Hawks kick to their number 1 target (Jack Gunston). However this would appear to have more to do with the Swans’ evolving forward structure than it does with an over-reliance on Buddy. The retirement of Mike Pyke has seen Kurt Tippett spend more time in the ruck in tandem with former Eagle Callum Sinclair, who is yet to show the same prowess in the forward 50 with the Swans as he did with West Coast. Sydney will be hopeful that Sam Reid’s impending return will relieve some of the pressure on Buddy, as the return of speedster Gary Rohan (3 goals) appeared to do on Friday night.

And how did Buddy handle this over reliance against his old side? Like this…

Long may it continue!


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