This Saturday, the two teams that are clearly better than the other 16 in the league will take on each other in the 2014 AFL Grand Final. It doesn’t always pan out like this; the unique nature of our finals series occasionally hands us match-ups like 2 v 4 or 1 v 3, or even an outsider from the bottom half of the eight. But the Swans and Hawks were the most consistent during the home and away season and have been the most composed during the finals. And, in a rematch of their 2012 encounter, now they promise to give us one of the most highly anticipated Grand Finals in recent history.
As if the match wasn’t big enough already, the biggest name in AFL, Lance Franklin, has switched allegiances from Brown and Gold to the Harbour City. The script could barely have been written any better. For all the doubters when the deal was announced – me included – the move of Buddy Franklin to the Swans may just prove to be one of the greatest recruiting masterstrokes of all time.
In terms of personal accolades, Franklin won the Coleman Medal this season for the most goals kicked by an individual, the third time he’s done so. He made his fifth All-Australian team, and came second in the Brownlow Medal.
It hasn’t just been a successful season for Franklin and Sydney on the field; their off-field performance has improved just as significantly following Buddy’s move. The Swans’ membership has cracked 40,000 for the first time, and crowds have spiked to levels akin to the Swans’ last prolonged purple patch in the mid-2000s.
For those who struggle to find AFL coverage in the Sydney papers, four Sydney-based teams are in the left in the NRL finals, yet it’s Buddy on the front and back pages of the major Sydney newspapers.
Plus he’s going out with 2010 Miss Universe Australia, Jesinta Campbell. All in all, a pretty successful year for Lance and the Swans.
But the job’s not done yet. It will all be for nothing if they don’t get past the Hawks on Saturday.
Hawthorn is gunning for its second consecutive flag, a feat they haven’t managed since the glory days of the late-1980s. It’s their third straight Grand Final, and a win would cement their place as one of the great teams of the modern era.
It’s hard to believe that the loss of a player like Franklin hasn’t really had much of an impact on them. In fact, it’s probably made them better. The emergence this year of Luke Breust, and the continued development of fellow All-Australian forward Jarryd Roughead into a genuine superstar, has meant that the Hawks forward line is more balanced, as well as being less predictable.
There are not too many teams where you can rip out the bloke who’s arguably their best player, and say the team’s better for it – but you certainly can with the Hawks. It gets back to that theme of balance. And not just on a superficial, positional level, but down to the specific role each player has. The Hawks have all roles covered with no exception. They’ve got a spoiler, a grinder, a sprinter, a flashy forward, and a reliable set shot. They’ve got a chaser, a slick ball-user and a kick-in gun. The list goes on.
This Saturday won’t just be about Buddy Franklin. Both teams clearly have a vast array of stars, and are thoroughly deserving of participating in the last Saturday in September.
But Buddy has been the difference to the Swans being a good side last year, to a dominant side this year. He’s a big-game player, and will relish the added intensity that comes with competing against his former team. And I think he’ll win his first of potentially multiple flags for the Swans.
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