IT’S NO pleasant task to isolate Lance ”Buddy” Franklin in an assessment of Hawthorn’s grand final defeat. He is a uniquely brilliant crowd-pleaser who illuminates the often tackling-dominated modern game. He is football’s flawed diamond and, in part, it’s the flaw that makes the beauty so distinctive.
For the individual himself, no doubt a proud professional, it would be no fun to have one’s personal contribution subjected to particular scrutiny after so painful a defeat.
And no doubt the club will be inclined to leap to the defence of its player and attack the critics for focusing on one high-profile member of a team that lost.
They will say others made mistakes, too. Even Sam Mitchell gave up a goal with an undisciplined, momentum-squandering 50-metre penalty. Cyril Rioli inexplicably played on after taking a mark well within range. Clinton Young failed to stay on his feet and surrendered a goal when the match was being lost. Grant Birchall was below his best and Jarryd Roughead had a bad one.
But when it comes to the basics of football, scoring is as fundamental as it gets. Hawthorn didn’t get that fundamental right when it counted. In their past two games the Hawks kicked 24 goals, 34 behinds; their opponents outscored them by five points with 28 goals, 15.
Buddy was the worst offender and it wasn’t as though this was an event without precedent.
In 2008, when he racked up 113 goals, his kicking was frequently on the agenda. The reason back then was that he also kicked 88 behinds. But Buddy won the Coleman Medal and Hawthorn won the flag, so he and the Hawks had the answer for their critics.
The difference now is that Hawthorn lost a grand final it had the talent – and match-day opportunities – to win. And it’s demonstrable that Buddy’s kicking for goal was below even his own shaky average. He also kicked poorly for goal under the pressure of the preliminary final. Damningly, in Hawthorn’s losses this year he kicked seven goals, 20.
In those final two games, Franklin kicked six goals from 15 scoring shots and missed the target completely at crucial stages.
On the raw goal/behind figures used to measure accuracy, that puts him at 40 per cent across eight season-defining quarters. This is in comparison with the 56 per cent he’s achieved over the six consecutive years the Hawks have relied on him as their leading provider of goals.
And 56 per cent is a low figure. Tony Lockett averaged 70 per cent, Matthew Lloyd 69, Jason Dunstall 66, while the maligned Nick Riewoldt sits at 60. The even more maligned Matthew Richardson achieved 59 per cent accuracy over his sometimes wayward years.
And in the grand final, it is undeniable Buddy missed shots at big moments. He wasted a chance to give the Hawks a flying start in the first two minutes. Who knows what the impact of a booming goal off his left boot at the start may have been?
A bigger moment came a minute before half-time. The Hawks were struggling and Franklin had the opportunity to give his team something to take to the rooms. A chance from 40 metres went begging.
Then there was the fateful shot early in the last quarter after two early Hawthorn goals had given it an 11-point break. The momentum was growing and had Buddy nailed that shot, from 45 metres, it may have been irresistible. Certainly a 17-point lead was going to take some reeling in.
In that last quarter, set shots at goal had become like a nervous contender’s drives on Sunday at Augusta. And just as the size of the moment is magnified, so is the impact of flawed technique. One of golf’s greatest teachers, Mac O’Grady, preaches that good technique provides the maximum time to make the minimum compensation.
Buddy tends to the opposite end of the spectrum. He has been executing imperfectly for years and neither he, nor his coaches, has overcome the problem. In mid-career, his skills should be well-honed, yet his accuracy percentage of the past two seasons has actually been below his career figure. It’s time the harsh reality was genuinely confronted.
Buddy also consumes much of Hawthorn’s front-half oxygen, which – given his prodigious talents – is hardly surprising. But with such scope comes the burden of responsibility. He must deliver the goods or face the inquisition.
If there’s a football parable for player and club right now, perhaps it’s that of Carlton and Greg Williams. In the early 1990s, the Blues’ over-reliance on ”Diesel” for midfield supremacy, coupled with his preference for that arrangement, brought them undone. They were picked apart in the 1993 grand final and made a straight-sets exit from the finals the following year.
From adversity came opportunity: David Parkin’s team discovered mid-field rotations and Williams accepted a degree of subjugation. The next year they won the flag, Diesel kicked five and won the Norm Smith Medal.
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