Lance Franklin gets hero's welcome
Sydney Swans recruit Lance Franklin was mobbed by fans outside his new club after he made his first press appearance wearing red and white.PT2M0S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2v7lu 620 349 October 9, 2013
Submerged under the heavy scepticism about whether Lance Franklin can last until he is 35, the question surfaced at his first media conference as a Sydney Swan.
''Do you think your best football is behind you, or ahead of you?'' Franklin was asked on Wednesday.
His response was about as predictable as his left foot is unpredictable. ''I think my best footy is still there. I think players get to their prime around 26, 27,'' he said.
Lance Franklin mingles with Swans fans on Wednesday. Photo: Anthony Johnson
''Look at Adam Goodes, what is he, 33? I think I've got a lot of good football left in me.''
What else could he say? The two men sitting either side of him - Sydney coach John Longmire and chief executive Andrew Ireland - would have wondered what their $10 million was getting them had Franklin been less forthright.
Nevertheless, it is the question Hawthorn supporters are asking themselves as the shock of seeing their hero in red and white subsides. Can they at least find contentment in the knowledge they cheered Buddy at his best? Or are the next three years set to be a humbling reminder of the once-in-a-generation talent that just walked out the door?
We look to the best modern-day centre half-forwards - some retired - to try to find a comparison with Franklin at the same age, 26, and project forward to see if the dual Coleman medallist is past, still waiting for, or in his prime.
Current champions such as Nick Riewoldt, Matthew Pavlich, Goodes and Jonathan Brown, or past greats Matthew Richardson, Barry Hall and Warren Tredrea seem to provide the best guide.
If there is one general deduction that can be derived from that group, it is this: Franklin either sacrificed his most breathtaking play for a premiership this season, or he could be set to revive his career-best form of 2008.
The only thing Riewoldt, Pavlich, Goodes, Brown, Hall and Tredrea have in common - in terms of their career timelines - is that all won their club's best and fairest at age 26 or 27, with Goodes winning the Brownlow in 2006.
The one exception is Richardson, yet even he finished second when he was 27. But Richardson is different for another reason: he believes his best was in the last five seasons of his 17-year career.
''I might have had one better year early on, but in terms of putting them together consistently, year after year, that came when I got a bit smarter, from about 29 onwards,'' said the Tiger champion, who played until he was 34.
''At the start of my career, I just used to try to run my opponents off their feet. But once I really learnt where to run, I became a lot more damaging as a player.''
Compared with the 113 goals Franklin notched in '08 and the exhilarating performances regularly over the next four seasons, 2013 was considered an underwhelming season and planted the seed in the minds of Hawks fans he was leaving as a player in decline.
That is despite the fact his limited influence came mostly by design, with coach Alastair Clarkson purposefully phasing out the power of one, for the benefit of all.
Considering Franklin's first nine years produced two Coleman Medals, a best and fairest, four All-Australian guernseys and two premierships, it is scary to think what could be accomplished in the next nine as a more complete footballer.
If one thing is certain, though, it is that no one can be sure what Franklin is truly capable of, so rarely have we seen anyone with his genetic gifts.
As Richardson put it: ''It would be a brave person to say his best footy is behind him. He has been a unique player right from the start.''