Hawthorn proved catalyst for Franklin form

Lance Franklin has proven a decisive addition to the Swans’ playing stocks.Round 18 AFL teams

If a week is a long time in football, three months might as well be a lifetime – more than enough for the most sweeping of statements to be forgotten.

On Saturday night, Sydney spearhead Lance Franklin fronts up for his second meeting against his old side Hawthorn, with the discussion being of a considerably different nature to the first occasion in early May.

Then, Franklin was coming off a pretty horrendous couple of weeks from both a personal and performance perspective. The almost daily reports of his off-field exploits, coupled with some underwhelming early games for Sydney, had created an easy commentary about the Swans’ multimillion-dollar splurge on the superstar proving a bust.

It reached a crescendo after Franklin was involved in a road accident in Rose Bay in Sydney that left five cars damaged and him pleading mea culpa at a media conference the next morning.

He had just seven possessions for a solitary goal against Melbourne two days later before injuring his knee, missed the following game against the Brisbane Lions, and was in doubt for the much-hyped clash with the Hawks right up until game time.

That meant two solid weeks of barbs. Cartoons like one featuring Sydney coach John Longmire standing in front of the knocked-up Jeep Franklin had been driving lamenting: ”I bought a Buddy.” Or commentary along the lines of Hawthorn having dodged a bullet in Franklin leaving, the Swans having apparently ended up with a lemon.

As unaffected as Franklin has always appeared by pressure, you can’t help but wonder now the extent to which his pride was pricked. Because what he has delivered since has been good enough to have rendered such judgments as silly as they were premature. And the turning point proved the game against his former premiership teammates.

At ANZ Stadium, Franklin had a to-then season-high 21 possessions and 10 marks as Sydney defeated Hawthorn by 19 points. Had it not been for inaccuracy (2.7) it would have been one of the better individual games of the season. And since then, consistent brilliance has been Franklin’s byword.

In six games before that first clash with the Hawks, Franklin had managed 12 goals. From that Friday evening on, he’s kicked 35 in nine. His total of 47 is behind only Jay Schulz and Tom Hawkins in the Coleman Medal count.

That Franklin is now not only favourite to win the Coleman, but is equal sixth favourite for the Brownlow Medal, despite its modern-era dominance by midfielders, gives you some idea of the extent of his renaissance.

But his contribution to the Sydney cause goes deeper still. The much-vaunted forward tandem with Kurt Tippett has barely eventuated due to the latter’s knee injury. The pair has played just five games together.

That has left Franklin having to wear far more heat from opposition defences, backed up by the fact that since round eight he has been the AFL’s most sought-out man inside 50. Yet the capacity for opponents to double team and concentrate far more energy on Franklin has had little effect.

During the same period, he is No.1 in the AFL for goals scored, and No. 1 for score involvements, with a whopping 91 – more than 10 a game.

And neither has Franklin’s greater potency affected his defensive game, evident even in the early games in which he struggled. In fact, over the nine games including that first meeting with Hawthorn, Franklin has laid more tackles than any of the top 10 goalkickers bar the Hawks’ small forward Luke Breust.

Indeed, even allowing for his early struggles, Franklin is averaging more disposals, more marks, more goals and more tackles than he did in his final year with the Hawks.

As well as Hawthorn has coped without Franklin, that is a bottom line that won’t be lost on the Hawks’ brains trust, particularly on Saturday night without Brian Lake, and Josh Gibson not having played since the round eight clash.

And hopefully not lost on the critics who piled on Franklin after just a few games in red-and-white, either. Just short of three months since the first clash with his old club kick-started Franklin’s surge in form, the only evidence of a lemon now might well be the sour taste of those early predictions of doom.

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