Mike Sheahen voted Buddy Franklin the top player in the competition in his highly rated Top 50 prior to season 2012.
“There is no one better to watch or more likely to turn the game than the man in brown and gold number 23”, Mike wrote.
Regardless of whether you rate Buddy 1, 2 or 3 it is simply hard to argue with Mike’s assessment of Buddy as a player.
Mike also suggested that he did need a big game this week as his form hasn’t been up to its usual standard.
However, before we analyse Buddy Franklin as an individual, we must look at the team he is playing for first.
Here is a quick snapshot of the Hawks in 2012. Total disposals 11th, kicks 8th, handballs 11th, marks 9th, short kicks 7th, long kicks 8th, contested possession 13th, contested marks 16th, hardball gets 16th, loose ball gets 7th, uncontested possession 10th, uncontested marks 7th, clearances 18th, tackles 3rd, and finally goals scored 8th.
Given where Buddy’s playing as the key forward, these stats are particularly alarming. For a team that I personally had as the Premiership favourites it is difficult to identify the brand of football the Hawks want to play. Prior to the season you would have seen the Hawks as a tough, hard, inside team that also had a great ability to spread, use the ball effectively, and get the ball into their forwards with pinpoint accuracy.
As the stats now suggest after 5 rounds, they are far from the team that we expected to see going into the season.
On reflection, was last week’s game such a surprise to all with the Swans the number one contested possession team in the competition against Hawthorn at number thirteen?
Incredibly, they are last in clearances with specialists like Mitchells, Sewell, Lewis and at times the explosive Rioli in their midfield group. In fact Sam Mitchell is 15th in the competition with clearances at 29, a long way behind Swallow 42, Hayes and Ablett on 37.
Now lets look at Franklin the individual. As a key marking forward, Buddy is not in the top 16 in contested, uncontested marks or marks on the lead.
The top 3 contested marking players are Cloke, Tippett and West Coast’s Josh Kennedy. The top 5 marks on the lead are Waite, Edwards, Riewoldt, Hawkins and Cloke.
All like Franklin, are key forwards.
Is it any surprise that Buddy is 13th on the goal kicking list with 11 goals from 5 matches?
As much as Buddy is slightly down on form clearly as a key forward you are relying on predictability and consistency from your teammates upfield.
As the game is played today, there is no such thing as a traditional centre half forward. More so in 2012 where teams seem to be changing from the forward press, midfield zones and some like Sydney did at times on the weekend, a man on man philosophy, it has probably never been more difficult to play as a key forward.
When we think of players like Carey, Kernahan and Brereton more often than not they would be leading towards the ball rather than forwards of today whose leading patterns must vary considerably.
Equally, apart from perhaps the ruckman dropping back at times, even Franklin’s more contemporary centre half forwards like Riewoldt, Brown and Hall would generally have had one opponent for the whole game and been involved in many one on one contests.
How often do we see Buddy well up the field having to lead back into the forward line? When a half-forward goes up into the midfield often his opponent will drop back and double team Franklin immediately.
Equally, defenders now are more likely to drop off Franklin as they set up their zone and allow another defender to pick him up rather than getting involved in an aerobic battle.
The clearance stats are particularly alarming for the Hawks and Buddy. The greatest way to beat zones, presses and avoid flooded forward 50’s is to win stoppages.
Generally at a stoppage Buddy will be inside the forward 50 and well positioned to score for the Hawks. This is where his unique abilities are seen at there best.
If he can get a one on one contest with clean ball from Mitchell, Hodge, Lewis etc.. he is virtually unstoppable. Whilst the delivery to Buddy, because of his incredible athleticism doesn’t need to be pinpoint it does need to be swift to give the superstar the chance to show his skills.
Centre bounces as we know are one of the few times in a game when there are low numbers around the ball. This is clearly your best opportunity to give your forwards a chance to impact the scoreboard.
As the stats show there are many areas of concern for the Hawks but in my view unless they can fix their problems at clearances they cannot be the Premiership contenders that we all expect them to be and Buddy will continue to struggle at times. The Hawks do not have a ruckman in the mold of Cox or Natanui, so clearances like the other concerns for the Hawks will have to come from an improved mindset.
Alistair Clarkson is an exceptional coach, as Franklin is an exceptional player. There will be much work done at the Hawks to firstly identify the problems of the team. That is the easy part of the process. The next part is more difficult.
If the Hawks, as a group, become the hard, tough contested team we expected then Buddy’s and the teams problems will disappear.