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Franklin deal uncovers depth of animosity between Sydney rivals

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IN just three short weeks since his part in Hawthorn's 11th premiership, Lance ''Buddy'' Franklin has redrawn the AFL landscape and made a genuine claim that one player can actually prove himself bigger than the game.

Remember Hawthorn's premiership? Remember this year's grand final? True it was not among the most memorable, but for the second year running barely a breath was taken - or in the Hawks' case a collective sigh of relief - than trade season began and Sydney shocked and then angered the entire industry by swooping on the AFL's most famous restricted free agent.

The Hawks' flag became a distant memory far too quickly. Even the AFL executive concedes the timing of the post-season player barter shifts the storyline too fast, but it seems powerless to change what now is accepted as inevitable.

Hawthorn managed to smell the roses at the club's best-and-fairest function although Franklin was missing, being deemed a distraction by some. Franklin himself cannot abide such nights, reportedly because he is constantly harassed. How did the elite form of Australian rules come to this? A point where clubs accept beloved players missing their biggest off-field function?

So much has changed as a result of the crazy Franklin deal. The player himself, having largely toed the line all season during the Hawks' path to the premiership, has - as the Swans did in making a mockery of the new free agency process - thumbed his nose at head office in failing to honour his commitment to the touring indigenous all-stars.

Having assured Andrew Demetriou and his team sitting around the board table in August that he would not let down the international rules team, Franklin has withdrawn from half the two-Test series due to a wedding. He also failed to travel with the team or attend its first Irish training session.


Given that Franklin and Adam Goodes were the linchpins of the AFL initiative that was only cautiously accepted by the Gaelic Athletic Association, Franklin's decision to miss the second game and therefore relinquish the captaincy is a slap in the face to what was a risky concept. Coach Michael O'Loughlin must be very disappointed.

Still Franklin has bigger fish to fry as he embarks on the deal of the century: a nine-year contract worth $10 million, which no one believes he can fulfil and few now working at Sydney will be there to concern themselves with anyway.

It will be so difficult to manage a team so renowned for its culture and development when two big-name imports control at least 20 per cent of the salary cap. Just how the Swans will cope should it lose its cost-of-living allowance is one issue, but another is Franklin's body and just how long he can play. Buddy's stated desire to move to a city not obsessed with the AFL could also backfire given its heightened obsession with celebrity.

Still, the Swans folk simply stare dumbfounded at their detractors. The deal is legal, they insist, and this much must be true given the individual grilling all parties underwent at the game's headquarters. Perhaps Sydney feel they should be lauded for having pulled off a coup few saw coming and - after all - who can predict what miracles Franklin is capable of.

But Franklin and the club that stood for so much that was good about the game has tarnished its image. When Swans chief Andrew Ireland revealed that the star player communicated his desire to switch clubs immediately after Hawthorn lost last year's grand final to Sydney, Hawks supporters were horrified. How could the club expect the faithful to bleed for the club when its franchise player chose that period of mourning to plan his move to the opposition?

What will change as a result of the Franklin offer is that the AFL will review how free agency is conducted. No club can be expected to match an offer when that offer is not real in the first place. What will also change is any semblance of pretence that Greater Western Sydney and the Swans do not despise each other.

The cordial relationship between chairmen Richard Colless and Tony Shepherd has been tested and the Giants' Shepherd contacted Colless last week to communicate just how let down and duped he felt by the Swans after being wooed and engaged by that club in uniting to fight for the survival of the extra million dollars in salary-cap money. Now the gloves are well and truly off.

Should the two clubs, as expected, be handed a revised cost-of-living allowance - or lose it altogether - the Giants will receive that money in another form. The new club has struggled to lure players as well as coaches to the new frontier and erred, in this columnist's view, in placing profile ahead of football substance in designing its coaching panel over its first two seasons.

Simply, very few people want to go there and that reality was further underlined by the startling amount of money offered to Heath Shaw. The Giants haven't helped themselves by their poor start, their nomadic image and in falling out with Sydney by criticising the Swans' off-field work.

By the same token, Sydney clearly have no intention of accepting a cross-town rival. The Swans never wanted the Giants, never believed in them and, in luring Franklin, have indicated they are prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to hurt their new orange neighbour. It could be said the Swans have cut off their nose to spite their face. And thumbed that nose at the AFL, which failed to correctly oversee the formation of the Giants in the first place, not to mention better manage any attempted buy-in from the Swans.

But if the Swans were motivated by hurting GWS as well as helping themselves, it has worked in terms of the first ambition. No one could blame Franklin for taking the deal, but the message it sent to other potential free agents was not helpful for the Giants, who are starved of on-field experience.

They looked foolish, even though they could not have hoped to match the Sydney offer, as the extraordinary battle ahead for the AFL's youngest club seemed once again stark and fraught.

Sydney's Franklin deal may be ludicrous, but for the past decade it has been an extraordinarily well-run club. That it so resents the GWS is a problem for the AFL and largely a problem of its own making. And it has taken the game's biggest name to expose the magnitude of a problem the AFL must now step in to help manage. Before Buddy and his celebrity make their unpredictable mark.