Joel Selwood and Lance Franklin, 14 years ago, ran onto the MCG for the Geelong-Hawthorn Grand Final as the second-youngest and seventh-youngest players on the ground respectively.
On Saturday, they’ll be the two oldest players on the ground when Selwood’s Cats face Franklin’s Swans in a highly-anticipated premiership decider.
And while they mightn’t be as explosive as they were 14 years ago, they’ll both be crucial to their respective sides’ flag hopes.
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BUDDY’S KEY ‘ADJUSTMENT’
Franklin in 2008, then 21, roared into AFL superstar status, booting 113 goals for the season to claim the first of four Coleman Medals. He was untouchable, gliding across grass with a combination of breathtaking grace and speed, while using his lethal, long left-foot kick to create havoc for rival sides.
Now 35, Franklin’s role and the expectations on him have changed significantly. But that doesn’t mean his influence on the outcome of games has diminished.
Franklin still appears to be ‘the man’ inside Sydney’s forward 50, yet isn’t asked to play like ‘the man’. As his former Hawks teammate Ben Dixon pointed out to foxfooty.com.au, the veteran Swan is happy to play a more selfless part.
“As you saw with the game the other night against the Pies, he‘s prepared to crash a lot more packs and hit a lot more contests. It just plays to the strengths of the Swans’ front half, because as soon as it hits the ground they’re the hottest team in the comp. They’re hot on pressure and then they’re hot offensively,” Dixon told foxfooty.com.au.
“So he‘s adjusted his game, because bringing the ball to ground is Sydney’s biggest weapon. It’s not necessarily ‘I need to be getting up high on the ground and marking and wheeling around’. It’s more ‘I’ve just got to play within the inside 50’.
“I‘ve been actually super impressed by him. He got highly criticised for his game against Steven May in the (qualifying final) match-up against Melbourne, but I thought it was a great game in the aspect that all he did was compete. It meant May’s focus was Buddy the whole time.
“He played the same role against Collingwood. He just hit contests, brought the ball to ground and didn‘t necessarily need to mark it but Sydney mopped up the rest.”
JOEL ‘FINALS FOOTY’ SELWOOD
Selwood in 2008, then 20, was already a premiership player and Rising Star winner with a reputation for being fearless and unrelenting at the coalface. In just his second season, he polled 19 Brownlow votes and had 29-plus disposals in eight of his 24 games, including in the Grand Final against Hawthorn in a losing cause.
Fourteen years on, Selwood’s reputation for being uncompromising at the contest remains. Like Franklin, though, the Cats star’s role and the expectations on him have changed.
This was personified last Friday night in Geelong’s preliminary win over Brisbane. The 34-year-old finished with just 12 disposals from 68 per cent game time, but was still the No. 6 rated player on the ground, according to the AFL Player Ratings. He kicked one goal from nine contested possessions, seven tackles, six score involvements and six clearances. It was a game where Selwood caused maximum damage from limited opportunities.
“I’m in awe of him at the moment,” Dixon said. “He just screams finals footy. His middle name must be ‘Finals Footy’ – Joel Finals Footy Selwood – because when his team needed him to step up and a lift and clearance, he just got it done.
“You don’t need Joel Selwood to get 30 touches these days. You need him to have 10 to 12 impactful possessions – and that’s what he’s providing.”
CHANGING WITH THE TIMES
Franklin and Selwood’s longevity and success across the more physically demanding modern-day era is remarkable.
Between them, they’ve played 694 games, polled 400 Brownlow votes and kicked 1221 goals, of which Franklin has kicked 86 per cent of them. The duo’s combined CVs make for startling reading too: Five premierships, 14 All-Australians, four best and fairest.
They’re impressive records considering how much the game has changed during their glittering careers.
As Dixon pointed out, Selwood has tweaked his game to adapt to every trend that’s been thrown his way. And he’s been well supported by the Cats, who’ve managed him perfectly.
“He’s a deadset chameleon. He blends in to where the game’s going,” he said of Selwood.
“He’s gone through multiple eras now in terms of the way footy has transformed and he’s just adopted his football acumen. That’s a huge tick.
“The Cats have been enormous for 10 years now about managing players. And for Selwood, the management of his game time throughout the years has been so smart, playing him off half-back and playing through the mids pinch-hitting here or there.
“Ultimately in a final, you need guys that can stand up and he’s just done it time and time again. Every time he’s been questioned, he’s answered. He’s just enormous.”
GRAND FINAL ROLES
While Selwood will be a crucial cog in the Cats’ on-ball machine on Saturday, Franklin will draw the Cats’ No. 1 key defender to him. That’ll almost certainly be Sam De Koning – the runner-up in this year’s Rising Star award with just 23 games to his name.
Should Max Holmes be deemed unfit to play, the talented De Koning will be the Cats’ youngest player on Grand Final day.
Dixon said Franklin would pay De Koning respect, but also attempt to throw him off his game.
“De Koning is smart, he’s young and super athletic. So Buddy’s got to play that role once again and take De Koning where he doesn’t want to go,” he said.
“Not many people are going to let Franklin go. De Koning’s not going to go ‘alright mate, I’m happy to let you go up the ground’ or give him time and space if they go deep … that’s the aura of Buddy. He’ll always drag a defender where he wants the defender to go.”
WHAT ANOTHER FLAG WOULD MEAN FOR LEGACIES
The beauty of the Selwood-Franklin subplot is that one of them on Saturday will walk away a premiership player again – a long time after their last flag triumph. Selwood was part of the Geelong dynasty that won the 2007, 2009 and 2011 flags. Now he has the chance to claim a fourth premiership – this time as captain.
“That would be pretty remarkable,” Dixon said.
“I think his legacy’s unquestionable. His ability to lead Geelong and now possibly to a flag 11 years later is just unheard of. Normally, it goes the other way when you get older and you step aside to let someone else lead. But he‘s enforced leadership into that group that no one can do. No one can do it other than him.
“So his legacy will be, one, of longevity but, two, his ability to lead a team for such a long period of time for success – that‘s the full stop.”
As for Franklin, he has the chance to be part of a premiership team for a third time – his first since 2013 and first for Sydney.
And a Swans flag would finally shut critics up that doubted the famous nine-year, $10 million deal he signed.
“He left Hawthorn in 2013 and they ended up winning another two flags. So this would be the exclamation mark to his career and his legacy on fulfilling a contract of nine years. Like, are you kidding me? To back yourself in like that and to do it and win one in the last year of that deal, it would just be an incredible legacy,” Dixon said.
“To get so far, look after yourself in terms of your body and prolong your career to a point where the final stage might be the curtain being drawn on some silverware, it’s pretty enormous.”