At the end of the 2013 AFL season, Lance Franklin and the Sydney Swans shocked the AFL world as the superstar forward departed Hawthorn to find a new home to win premierships with. Franklin was enticed by the Swans’ famed ‘Bloods’ culture and, of course, a massive nine-year deal worth $10 million that ensured he will end his career in Sydney.
You don’t just sign a player on that type of deal for nothing, though. The Swans wanted to beat crosstown rivals GWS to his signature and guarantee they will be able to compete with the growing Giants over the years to come.
But after last Friday night’s semi-final shocker against Geelong, the Swans are now title-less in four seasons with Buddy, including a 0-2 record in grand finals. Despite having the franchise player in his peak years, the Swans have come up short now for a number of seasons. The big move to sign Franklin to take them to the next level since the 2013 preliminary final defeat to Fremantle hasn’t worked out as planned.
— MelbourneTalk (@MelbourneTalk) September 15, 2017
While all of his heroics on the field over the last four seasons have lifted the Swans on many occasions, this deal will be remembered more about flags won. The Swans do have Franklin on the books for another five years, but they may not have that long to win at least one flag to have some permanent on-field return for Sydney.
Given the state of the Swans’ list when Buddy signed on, they were in peak premiership contention. However, since 2014, they have lost key figures to retirement and free agency such as Ryan O’Keefe, Nick Malceski, Adam Goodes, Lewis Jetta, Rhyce Shaw, Ben McGlynn, Ted Richards, Toby Nankervis and Tom Mitchell. The Swans have kept having to reload to stay in touch with other sides.
— Sydney Swans (@sydneyswans) September 10, 2017
Names such as Will Hayward, Tom Papley, Aliir Aliir, George Hewitt, Nic Newman, Lewis Mellican, Oliver Florent and Callum Mills have made strong impressions since debuting last year. It is a credit to the recruitment team in Sydney that they have found some players that can not only perform at a good enough standard now, but also in years to come to replace the likes of Franklin, Kieren Jack, Jarrad McVeigh and Heath Grundy.
This is despite carrying players such as Kurt Tippett and Sam Reid, who have not put in the performances that the big pay packets would suggest they should.
After Franklin won the Coleman Medal earlier this year, along with turning 31 before the 2018 season starts, Sydney can expect two years of Franklin in peak condition before his match-winning performances are likely to drop off.
— AFL Game Day (@7aflgameday) September 17, 2017
He may have to adjust in a new role, such as playing as a deep forward (and contested marking has never been a strength of his) or play predominantly on the wing – similar to St Kilda champion Nick Riewoldt in the latter years of his career.
While you wouldn’t write Buddy off from fulfilling the length of his contract given he is a-once-in-a generation player, the Swans will be paying it regardless if he sees it out or not. Sydney know that keeping him on this deal will continue to affect their list management decisions in keeping younger players from leaving in years to come.
So the Swans only have a couple of more years left to cash in on Buddy being at his best, before the opportunity slips from their grasp.