Life as a Sydney Swans supporter is full of ups and downs. Nothing is more certain - not even taxes - than Victorian media bias against the Harbour side club.
Victorian centric football media won't talk about the Swans unless they're defying the odds, or mucking it up big time. The irony wasn't missed in the wash-up of Friday night's loss to Geelong, with all and sundry taking a swing at the Swans and their superstar players.
Friday night's performance was as surprising as it was dumbfounding. The Swans lead the week with the campaign #defytheodds, the team banner displaying the same slogan. Instead of defying the odds with a win, they defied the odds with their worst performance of the year. Alanis Morissette with her 10 thousand spoons has nothing on the Swans.
It's hardly surprising the usual suspects are critiquing Franklin's worth based on a handful of finals. It's the same useless mouth pieces that continue to get airtime when most people stopped paying any attention to them. Unfortunately they're also former AFL greats, club legends and loved, if not revered icons of the sport. Like Cameron Ling's nauseating commentary, you just can't avoid it.
Dermott Brereton recently stuck his fork into the Franklin discussion, adding to the growing list of yearly articles by various hack journalists and hyperbole extraordinaries. His recent effort - albeit a radio interview - added more noise to a growing cacophony of ham-fisted, cereal spewing, ill considered and narrow minded criticism.
“Given what they have paid for the players they have attracted there… they got close, but you would probably say (2017 is) a failure,” the five-time premiership star told SEN’s The Run Home.
“I mean Lance’s contract of $10 million, I would think they would have expected to win a premiership or two in that era. He’s been fantastic and they haven’t landed one with him yet. It’s starting to mount up a little bit on them.”
Gary Ablett and Chris Judd lived through the same pressure through their big money moves, and while Judd was better suited to deal with it, and Carlton did a superb job of protecting him, Ablett and Franklin have struggled with the expectations. But not as much as people would think.
Judd and Ablett won their second Brownlow medals after moving clubs, have won their clubs' best and fairest and collected more All Australian guernseys. Their legacy at both clubs are set - they'll be future AFL legends. The same goes for Franklin. Three time All Australian and two time Coleman medalist since moving to the Swans and countless match winning performances, arguably better than he was at Hawthorn. Throw in two grand final appearances as well, and it's not all bad.
Dermott is hardly the first AFL personality to stick the fork in, following the well-trodden path of Lloyd, Lyon and many former players in the media. The one thing they steadfastly refuse to budge on is his "worth". They see a club willing to spend $10.3 million over 9 years to win premierships. They don't see (or even consider) the impact he's had on the club and football in New South Wales.
Which is why the staunch support from Gerard Healy, Steven Johnson (paywalled) and Chris Judd is so polarising in an industry that thrives on negative criticism. Johnson, the only current footballer from the three in his final season, was the first to write about Buddy's positive influence on AFL in Sydney and New South Wales.
"There haven’t been many more watchable players than Buddy in the 150 or more years the game has been played. He hasn’t just captivated the avid AFL followers; he is one of the key reasons why football in Sydney is going from strength to strength," Johnson wrote.
"He drags people to the game up there just to say they have seen him in action, much the same was as Winx does on the racetracks.
"Sydney’s aggressive, expensive decision to recruit Buddy — as a 26-year-old at the end of the 2013 season — was a football decision but they also knew he would put bums on seats — which he has.
"It’s fair to say Sydney’s huge investment in Buddy — which was questioned by some at the time because of the nine-year contract — has been justified both on and off the field."
Gerard Healy echoed similar sentiments when he spoke on Fox Footy's On The Couch on Monday night.
“It seems to be almost a rush to the phone or the typewriter as soon as the Swans get knocked out in a final,” Healy told Fox Footy’s On The Couch.
“The Buddy deal, irrespective of a premiership, to me is a great success already.
“He’s going to have to play another three or four or five years to make sure that the average that they’re paying him doesn’t blowout. (But) they’ve got a record number of memberships, they had a record number of people at the SCG (against Essendon) — Buddy Franklin makes people talk about football in Sydney.
“We’re spending 30-odd million dollars out in the west to get people to talk about footy — Buddy’s doing it for one (million dollars).”
Chris Judd was similarly full of praise, and along with Gerard stated that there's an unhealthy obsession in the football media with the Swans and Buddy Franklin.
"After Sydney's convincing defeat to Geelong in last Friday night's semi-final there has inevitably been commentary around whether the Buddy Franklin deal has been a failure," Chris wrote.
"Many in the media have an opinion, which they hold as fact, that for the deal to have been a success, Sydney must win a premiership.
"To believe that one player holds the responsibility for premiership success on his shoulders is the stuff made of fairy tales and fails to take into account just how many moving parts are required to be working at full capacity before a club can hold up the cup."
Franklin does things on the field no other football can do and very few before him have done. His superstar presence on and off the field has turned a Rugby League market's indifferent attitude towards AFL into a craved frenzy, where the kids just can't get enough. There's more kids wanting to play football than there are clubs, or facilities that can support them. It reached critical stage just two weeks ago with AFL chief Gillon McLachlan declared the situation as "almost the biggest challenge facing our game".
"The facilities challenge for us is almost the biggest challenge facing our game," said McLachlan.
"We'll play whatever role we can in turning it around and whatever the solutions are, I'm not going to accept turning kids away."
Not only has AFLW taken the league and country by storm, two successful teams in Sydney has driven the dramatic growth of the league in the toughest market in Australia. Memberships for both clubs are at record levels, almost 80 thousand between them (the Swans had 24,995 in 2005). A grand final appearance for the Giants, coupled with the remarkable recovery of the record-setting Swans, will no doubt lead to further growth in New South Wales and challenge the pre-conceptions held by those in established football markets.
Lance Franklin isn't solely responsible for the rapid growth of AFL in Sydney, but there's no denying that he's had a significant impact. While the Swans will rue the '14 and '16 deciders, Franklin has been far more successful in Sydney than anyone could have hoped or imagined. Johnson said it best - "he puts bums on seats". Everyone wants to be him, especially the kids.
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