Lance Franklin: a freak. Not a champion.

In AFL, a champion is skilled, strong, consistent and dependable.

A freak is a player who is neither consistent nor predictable but does what others cannot. ‘Impossible’ is a challenge to them. They are exciting because anything could happen, at any time.

Lance Franklin is undoubtedly a freak, but not a champion. He has the speed and agility of an elite midfielder (remember those goals against Essendon?) with the power and mobility of an elite forward. However, he lacks the consistency and dependability that define all champions. As the golf adage goes, “you drive for show. You putt for dough.” To apply this to Franklin: he creates more chances than most key forwards, and in a more spectacular way than pretty much all of them. Freaks do that, and sight of Franklin shimmying, accelerating and muscling his way towards goal is always thrilling. However, his poor kicking for goal nullifies such brilliance and stops him from being a champion.
His performance under pressure against the Hawks a month ago defined his flaws. He racked up an impressive 21 disposals, presented hard and got nine scoring shots. Put simply, his driving game was excellent. But putting? In front of goal, when the heat was on, Franklin kicked 2.7. Even by his oft erratic standards, he was poor. That performance crystallised the weakness of Franklin’s game.

Below is a table comparing Franklin to three undisputed champion key forwards of the modern era: Brisbane’s Jonathan Brown, Fremantle’s Matthew Pavlich and North Melbourne & Adelaide’s Wayne Carey.


*-all stats from Career Games/Goals Av. Scoring Shots Per Game Goal Kicking Accuracy
BROWN 252/587 3.61 64.6
PAVLICH 300/601 3.23 62.1
CAREY 272/727 4.35 61.4
FRANKLIN 189/599 5.5 57.6



Franklin’s accuracy ranks well down in comparison, nullifying his overall influence on games. Clearly, he still averages more goals a game than any of his rivals here. However, he has spent the last eight years in elite teams that provide excellent and prolific service. The same can be said of Carey, who had a premiership winning team’s entire game plan built around him.
Brown, however, has played finals just once in ten years, whilst Fremantle have been a finals participant in just five of Pavlich’s fifteen seasons. Their success rate is far worse than Franklin’s and Carey’s (Pavlich also spent much of his early career in the backline), making their maintained high average for shots on goal even more impressive.
In a way, the criterion for a champion forward is simple: create chances and make the most of them. Franklin’s talents and efforts are, for the better part, unquestionable, as is the fact that he creates chances. But he just does not capitalise on them, unlike Brown, Carey and Pavlich. He may be quicker and more athletic than all three of them, but he misses an important trait of a champion key forward: efficiency.

So how does Franklin perform under pressure, that other great test for champions, compared with Carey, Brown and Pavlich?
The table below compares and contrasts their respective abilities to stand up in finals – when it matters most. Comparing Franklin’s finals record with that of Brown’s, Pavlich’s and Carey’s, he is again overshadowed. He is actually more accurate in front of goal during a finals match than his overall average: an increase of 1.1% which, while not indicating that he’s a crunch-time champion, would suggest that he can hold his nerve under pressure. However, Franklin will average 2.2 shots less on goal during a final than for his career average. Of the four, he is an unfortunate stand out in this regard: both Pavlich and Carey have more shots, while Brown is a mere 0.79 under his career average.
Franklin will also find it hard to forget his now infamous inaccuracy in the 2012 Grand Final: 3.4 from nine shots as the Hawks fell 10 points short of the Swans. Give Brown or Pavlich nine shots on goal in a Grand Final and they would kick six. Hawks win. Champions, again, stand up when their teams need them the most.

If a freak isn’t a champion, he must improve. If a champion isn’t a freak…it doesn’t really matter.

Finals Games/Goals Av. Scoring Shots Per Final Diff. Between Finals and Career Goal Kicking Accuracy in Finals Diff. Between Finals and Career
BROWN 17/32 2.82 -.79 67.0 +2.5
PAVLICH 11/31 4.1 +.9 68.9 +6.8
CAREY 23/64 4.9 +.05 57.1 -4.3
FRANKLIN 14/46 3.3 -2.2 58.7 +1.1


Anyone remember James Morrissey? Didn’t think so. Morrissey played 106 games for Hawthorn in a forward line alongside Dermott Brereton, Jason Dunstall and Leigh Matthews during the 1980s. He averaged less than a goal per game. He was known as ‘The Freak’. His anonymity should serve as a warning that history cares little for talented, yet unreliable, players.

About Callum O'Connor

Here's to feelin' good all the time.


  1. Dave Brown says

    I’m with you on this one Callum. Take out the elimination final against the Crows (if only we could) and his finals record would be appreciably worse. The Crows gambled that more or less leaving him to his own devices while containing the rest of the Hawks’ forward line would be sufficient and were almost right. His match winner was definitely on the freak side of the ledger.

    Where would Tredrea sit in this analysis?

  2. Callum O'Connor says

    Tredrea is undoubtedly a champion, but his goals per game is just over 2. For the record his accuracy is 60.2%, putting him amongst the top CHFs for goal kicking efficiency

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Good article , Callum good sound reasoning his mobility and athleticism is amazing , his kicking for goal and over head marking is not elite , Richo better over head mark not as explosive athlete and average kick for goal ( even tho his percentage is ok ) comes in too the same category in my opinion

  4. Earl O'Neill says

    Some good points, Callum, but are you casting the net a tad early? I agree that Franklin is more freak than champion – and I love freaks – but unlike Carey, Brown and Pavlich, he has five years ahead of him. On the games/goals stats you provided, he has a higher average than all, 3.2 goals per game, the next best being Carey at 2.7.
    Given the Swans’ success at getting traded players to another level (eg, Richards, Kiennedy) and Bud’s form so far this season, his best may yet to be seen.

  5. Rick Kane says

    Hi Callum

    I think we have disagreed previously on this same subject. Buddy is not a freak. Nor is Ablett or any other gifted athlete.

    I reckon the question of whether Buddy is a champion or not will be determined on a whole lot more evidence than what is provided here.

    For the record (no surprises, by the way) I think he is a brilliant footballer. His output has been consistently well above average for, at least, 8 years. He has been one of the half a dozen main reasons that the Hawks rose to and maintained the level they achieved through 2008 to 2013 (2 premierships, three GF and so). In that time he also won the Coleman twice. And it looks like he has taken this incredible ability to the Swans, who are already getting their money’s worth.

    Is he a champion? Bloody oath.


  6. 1. How nice to see a discussion of champion key forwards that includes Matthew Pavlich.

    2. Buddy is a champion.

  7. Callum O'Connor says

    G’day Rick
    With Franklin’s talents and the strength of the team he is in, it’s hardly surprising that he has averaged 3 goals a game. However, I think ‘champion’ is a title that he hasn’t earned – yet. As Earl says, he has five years or so left and is not looking like slowing down, so who knows where he could end up.

  8. daniel flesch says

    Hmmm , Callum … an interesting analysis but …Buddy’s significance at Hawthorn was not just the number of goals he kicked or missed , but also what he meant to the team. I don’t think his attributes as a team player get as much attention as his individual efforts do. Only two goals in the 2008 G.F. , but both with exquisite timing at critical stages of the game. Last year at Hawthorn he played up the ground a lot , setting up goals for others . One memorable instance was a hard-ball get in the middle , handball to Rioli who carried and handballed to Gunston who ran a bit and goaled. That was in the Big One .Thank you Buddy , and Hawks won the Flag by only 15 points. A month ago when his new club beat his old club Buddy kicked two goals seven. That was precisely the winning margin . Champion ? or freak ? doesn’t matter to me – just call him a match-winner . (And i do remember Jamie Morrissey – no. 35 and not so recognised only because of the other big names in the teams he played in . Buckenara another name you might have included in your list. No wonder The Freak not well known, but i think Peter_B might recall his job on Chris Lewis in the ’91 G.F.)

  9. Les

    Agree nice to see a champion forward discussion that includes the Pav AND leaves out Nick R

    Champion or not, every club would have him in a heartbeat, which is a pretty good measure of the value of the player.

    Agree, his finals games have mostly been poor. But, the situation with Franklin is that whilst you may win GFs without him playing well on the day, you don’t get to the position of being eligible to play in them without him playing well over the entire season.


  10. DBalassone says

    Can’t believe this dialogue is even taking place. Lance Franklin is an out and out champion. No question.

    And Dave Brown, there have been other finals where Buddy has blitzed – take a look at 2008 Qualifying Final vs. Bulldogs, for a start!

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