Lance Franklin had another brilliant season in 2018. Picture: Getty Images
Lance Franklin had another brilliant season in 2018. Picture: Getty Images

What fans don’t know about ‘passionate’ Buddy

The dust was still settling on Sydney's national draft heist last November when John Longmire's phone started buzzing.

The Swans had masterfully traded out their first-round pick, secured academy star Nick Blakey at a discount, then traded back into the second round for the next day's draft session.

And Longmire's sources had mail on who the Swans should consider with pick 25.

On the end of the text message was not some secretive track watcher but a big left-footer with 917 goals - and some of footy's most electrifying moments - to his name.

Instead of spending his holidays on some luxury yacht off the Maldives, Lance Franklin was hitting up his coach with detailed insights on TAC Cup kids.

"The public just doesn't appreciate how passionate about footy he is," says Longmire, sipping a skinny flat white at a South Melbourne cafe as he previews Sydney's upcoming season.

As usual, discussion starts and ends with Franklin and yet Longmire says the public perception of his mega-star couldn't be further than the truth.

"He loves the game and watches a lot of footy on TV, even watches the under-18 carnivals and is quite happy to give us some thoughts on what he thinks about the draftees.

"So that's the depth he goes into, he is heavily invested in what we do as a footy club and particularly the young kids. He knows about him having seen Nick (Blakey) through the academy.

Fans don’t know how passionate Lance Franklin is when it comes to footy. Picture: Phil Hillyard
Fans don’t know how passionate Lance Franklin is when it comes to footy. Picture: Phil Hillyard

"Last year day one of the draft happened, we got Nick and then we had an early pick the next day. So he is happily on the text to me and giving his opinion. Which is fantastic.

"To have a senior player of his profile watching it, understanding it, living it, it's just a great example of the impact senior players can have on kids, they get invested in them from the start."

Who knows whether Franklin's nous influenced their selection - the Swans took Oakleigh Chargers inside midfielder James Rowbottom with pick No. 25, but he couldn't have been more invested.

Just like Franklin, Longmire has never cared too much about outside perceptions.

The external view is that with Franklin just 32 and with a maximum of four years left in his career, Sydney should do anything it takes to win that elusive flag.

Instead, under master list builder Kinnear Beatson, they have flooded their list with a bunch of eager kids.

Don't call it a rebuild, or even a rewire, restump and replumb.

For Longmire, it is about necessary "evolution".

Those kids are coming through at such speed that a rebuild by stealth and a premiership in Franklin's time are far from mutually exclusive.

"Half of our senior team are 24 and under. The last three years we have played the second-highest amount of debutantes and they have played the most games," says Longmire.

"They are playing key roles, not just ticking off the debutantes line.

"Tom McCartin, the youngest player in the competition, came in and played 15 games at centre half-forward. We have three players 24 and under in our leadership group.

"We have transitioned our list but we want to keep winning and we think we have the balance to do that. Over the last three years we have seen the evolution of our list. It's nothing else than that but we make no apologies for trying to evolve our list."

Sydney's forward line will be a fascinating case study this year - Franklin and perhaps Dan Menzel along with youngsters McCartin, Ben Ronke, Blakey, Will Hayward and Tom Papley.

In the midfield Cal Mills will play a full-time midfield role alongside the emerging Ollie Florent and Isaac Heeney, entering his prime after four seasons and 80 AFL games.

Blakey could be anything - a lightly raced colt who is as versatile and talented as any kid to come through in recent seasons.

John Longmire and Lance Franklin have a great understanding. Picture: Getty Images
John Longmire and Lance Franklin have a great understanding. Picture: Getty Images

"He is 197cm and quick and has a great tank, can mark it, is a beautiful kick. He is still developing his body but he's good enough to play (now). How many games, who knows? But he's a very exciting player who works hard."

Menzel broke down with groin soreness after a single training session, with Sydney's doctor watching Franklin's surgery live and realising the ex-Cat could benefit from the exact operation.

Longmire realises he is a risky proposition but will back him in on a one-year contract, aware the Swans need experience alongside Franklin.

For all of Franklin's brilliance, the reality is the star was banged up and goalless in the past two finals after also playing the losing 2016 Grand Final under serious duress.

Longmire says it is simple in theory to suggest Franklin should be eased through the home-and-away season but impossible in execution.

"Last year he had a good pre-season and then in Round 1 the heel injury bobbed up. There was no guarantee if we gave him six weeks off it would be fixed so our medical team was pretty strong that we had to get him through the season.

Nick Blakey in action at Sydney training. Picture: Phil Hillyard
Nick Blakey in action at Sydney training. Picture: Phil Hillyard

"To his credit he was the All-Australian captain. Then in the second-last game he hurt his groin and in the final he had an injection before the game and he couldn't really move. So he doesn't do a lot of training and we manage him the best way we can."

Last season there were times Sydney seemed to prioritise slow ball movement and a defend-at-all costs attitude.

AFL great and former Swan Dermott Brereton was particularly scathing in July, writing that Longmire wasn't playing a style of football to compliment Franklin's abilities.

According to the coach, that ball movement wasn't by design.

"I just want those commentators to have a chat to me about it. It's one of the challenges being up in the northern markets. But last year was the first year in eight years we have been on the negative in inside 50 differential.

"We had some challenges moving the ball but it wasn't as if we were trying to stuff it up.

"Since Lance has been here he has been a four-time All-Australian. Last year he was All Australian. His output has been reasonable…."

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