Football as Lance Franklin’s Stage

The one time I met Lance Franklin I didn’t say anything to him and I don’t think he knew that I was there.

It was a couple of days after the only Grand Final Franklin ever lost with Hawthorn, on Burwood Road outside Nevermind Bar around the time that people go home from work. He leapt out of a taxi and his friend got out of the backseat a little more gingerly, needing a couple of tries. Franklin just stood there, waiting, sun beating down on him as he looked off into the distance, and for a moment you might have thought that he was a God instead of a guy waiting for his mate to find his way out of a taxi.

Even with confused eyes and an unsteady shape, Franklin looked a picture of health, tall, lean and muscular, the tight jeans and scoop neck General Pants Co. tee worn better than every other AFL player. I stopped, not just having the thought quickly pass through my head, but having it sit there and simmer for a while: this is what a person should look like.

A similar thought occurs when you watch Franklin play football: this is what a football player should look like. There have been better players than Franklin, but surely no player more perfect. He has the rare effect of both appearing like he was designed in a lab and looking completely, almost quintessentially natural.

The traits are self-evident. The brawling strength; subtle and artful in the aerial contest, crushing and frightening when he lays his tackles. The supreme acceleration; whether it’s at Cale Hooker’s expense, or any nameless player who has been worked under the ball deep inside 50 over the years by Franklin, left helpless as Buddy takes the mark goal-side on the move and power-speeds gleefully towards the goal-mouth and an ecstatic or broken cheer squad.

There’s the booming left-foot rake, weaponised with versatility – equally adept at launching goals from 65 out as it is stab-kissing low 25 metre scythes to teammates.

Then there’s the dexterity, which is probably the greatest separator between Buddy and Man. Someone that big and overpowering shouldn’t be able to dance the way he does.

The dancing, and everything else, was on total display against the Eagles. It was a ‘Franklin Game’, one of three or four every year, where everything shrinks underneath Buddy and the game becomes his script, every moment that he’s not involved in mere filler until his next act.

The game started with his best moment, the double shimmy goal that left both Brad Sheppard and Jeremy McGovern helpless like little defeated cats trying to keep balanced on a rolling exercise ball.

There were the bazooka goals from outside 50, a dribbled, opposite foot cunning grubber along the ground magnetised into goal, and the sealer, which was in a way the most Buddy moment: the positioning, the danger, and then suddenly the space, the speed and the finish.

Franklin is a perfect footballer but not one without areas for improvement. The kicking for goal will always be a little suspect, and he’s always been oddly tame in the air – how many overhead marks has he had to palm to himself before taking it on the second grab?

And yet, while Dustin Martin and Patrick Dangerfield are probably better players right now, just as Chris Judd and Gary Ablett Jr. were better players in years past, Franklin will be the one, I suspect, that we remember most clearly.