To Buddy or not to Buddy: Lance Franklin’s sore shoulder

Lance “Buddy” Franklin’s recovery program from off-season shoulder surgery is a huge fantasy issue.

Whatever Lance Franklin does is news in footy towns, so it’s no surprise that the Age ran a long AAP story, while the Herald-Sun recorded pronouncements from both the man himself and coach Alistair Clarkson. The key passage, for me, is this one from the Hun story covering Franklin’s comments:

“Over the last four pre-seasons, I’ve basically done nearly everything. This is the first pre-season in which I’ve only done less than 50 per cent,” he said yesterday.

The Hawthorn training reports I have seen, admittedly from Hawk fans, have been dismissive of the effect that the shoulder injury has had on his training load. Most seemed more interested in his thumb injury, which until recently had been protected with a guard, leaving him to do skills work with one hand. This BigFooty report from today is indicative of the mood of training watchers, with statements like “Buddy WAS FULLY INVOLVED and I’ll eat my hat if he isn’t fit now” and this:

Buddy what can I say! But FIT and looks ready. I’d say he’ll be rested NAB but will play a practice match prior to round 1. No doubt at all.

One relevant debate which I am not sure I know the answer to, which was brought up by Chad in the comments of the post-Christmas training report post, was this one:

On the modified pre-season, do you take into consideration how long a player has been in the system for? I would think a player that has done 10 pre-seasons would be less affected by a modified pre-season than a first year player.

With Lance Franklin in 2009, we have an opportunity to test this theory out. I’ve said before that I don’t give much credence to shoulder problems as a rule, as Franklin himself has showed that you can play through such injuries, and even win a Coleman Medal. You can tell by the amount of players who had post-season shoulder surgeries – Jason Porplyzia, Robert Warnock, Joe Anderson, Daniel Pratt, Robbie Tarrant, Ed Lower, Adam Simpson, Chad Cornes, Michael Pettigrew, Peter Burgoyne, Tadhg Kennelly, Heath Grundy, Tom Williams and Jarrad Boumann – that clubs know that it’s safe to delay the procedure until after the games are done for the year. Obviously there are degrees of severity with shoulder injuries, with Sean Rusling requiring a full reconstruction that put him out for the year very early, Adam Hunter being booked in for surgery fairly early, Williams missing a fair few games, plus Porplyzia and Kennelly having their shoulders pop out at the first gentle breeze during games. For the most part, Franklin’s performances weren’t affected by it during 2008.

With Matthew Pavlich on a restricted pre-season, Jonathan Brown having burned a lot of coaches with glowing pre-season reports from 2008 that turned out to be bogus, and Nick Riewoldt a traditionally slow starter, a lot of coaches will be looking at Franklin as a genuine premium forward. My view on this has shifted slightly over the pre-season. Initially, my thought was that the AFL in 2009 would look like the current NFL season. The challenger who shocked the unbackable favourite the year before, as the New York Giants did to the New England Patriots, would then go on to dominate the regular season the next year, as the Giants did in 2008. However, with news that Trent Croad won’t be back until round 5, Xavier Ellis unlikely until midseason, and interrupted preseasons for Robert Campbell, Luke Hodge and Jordan Lewis as well as Franklin, I have dialed back my expectations for the first part of 2009 for the Hawks. I fully expect Hawthorn to get beaten by Geelong in round 1, possibly quite badly. The Hawks’ first four games (Geelong, Sydney, North and Port) are all very losable to teams I expect to contend for the top 8, so anywhere from 2-2 to 0-4 is on the cards. To me, this means that Franklin will struggle to reach his nine shots at goal per game, or if he does get there, those shots will likely be from difficult angles a long way from goal as the Hawks cede the corridor. As the Hawks get fitter in this scenario his fantasy scores will improve, of course, making him an awesome upgrade target for the plethora of forward rookies that everyone will be carrying.

Then again, I have this other theory about Franklin, which is that at the age of 21 he’s still got a lot of improvement left in him. His goalkicking accuracy may be a lost cause, but where I think he could get better is his amount of shots per game. Buddy is a Gary Ablett kind of player (that’s senior, not junior), and like Ablett he could very well push his average shots at goal up from 9 to 11 or beyond, so that instead of averaging a score of 5.4 he can reach 6.5 or 7.5. Of course the game plays a lot different to the way it did in the 1980s, and Franklin would probably have to rotate through the wing in the style of Matthew Richardson (and Ablett senior, let us not forget) to make it happen. Who knows, maybe the four-tall structure that Essendon coach Matthew Knights is toying with will catch on, with Buddy chasing kicks up the ground a lot more like Matthew Lloyd.

In the end, I’m still a little torn. I’m annoyed that I didn’t get on board last year due to the two-strikes rumours, and I’m trying not to let that cloud my thinking this year. How about you, did you enjoy his rise last year, and are you committing to Buddy love in 2009? Tell me in the comments.

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