As a player, John Longmire shared a dressing-room with some tough men. He played alongside Glenn Archer, who was one of the most courageous players the modern game has seen. He took to the field with Anthony Stevens in the 1999 grand final, a week after the North Melbourne legend had fractured his heel and torn all the ligaments in his ankle.
So when the Sydney coach rates Lance Franklin’s ability to play with duress is the best he has seen, it’s saying something.
“You’re talking about someone who has surprised John Longmire, who has seen everything as a player and gone through knee reconstructions,” former North Melbourne great Wayne Carey said.
“For him to make the comment about Buddy is testament to Buddy and what he’s gone through.”
Until Longmire’s bombshell last week that Franklin had trained for only 20 minutes this season, few would have understood the extent of his struggle with injury.
It’s not uncommon for players to play with niggles. Even fewer can maintain the high standards that the four-time Coleman Medallist and dual premiership winner has for much of the season. Up until the past two weeks, he would have been pencilled in as a key forward in the All Australian team for an eighth time.
In a year where the aesthetics of the game have been a major talking point, it has been a shame not only for Swans fans but football lovers in general that the only match Franklin has played injury free was in round one, where he bagged eight goals against West Coast.
The Swans left Optus Stadium in the history books as the winners of the first AFL game at the venue but also with a heel injury to their superstar forward which has become season-defining for the club.
Clubs have a session each week in which they practise ball movement, tactics, simulate specific game situations and the like. In season, outside of the game it is the best chance for players to maintain conditioning.
He has been limited to what clubs call “off legs” work like boxing and running on an anti-gravity treadmill.
Franklin’s inability to train with the team has hurt on multiple fronts. He would have lost more conditioning than most, which affects his capacity to run to make position to receive the ball, and to chase and tackle.
His form this season has generally been sound without reaching the dominant heights of other years. Last week was the perfect storm for an off night: he was up against a high-class opponent in dual All Australian defender Michael Hurley, who won almost every one-on-one duel, and he was starved of opportunities.
Forward great Nick Riewoldt interpreted the performance as a sign Franklin’s lack of training had affected his confidence.
“Knowing I’m playing on a bloke like Hurley, who is quick, has great closing speed, I haven’t trained all week so I’m not at my peak fitness-wise … that’s why he has been going for [the] body,” Riewoldt said on Fox Footy’s AFL 360 program this week.
“He doesn’t usually try and initiate that contact, that’s the lack of confidence. That’s a telltale sign – when you’re searching for [the] body before you have to.”
But what about his judgment of the ball?
“When you miss training the touch goes. This is his bread and butter – it’s the flight of the ball.
“It takes that little split second timing to judge that drop zone of the ball, that’s what he’s so good at. To train 20 minutes all year that would be eating away, that timing would be that little bit off.”
Then there’s the impact of Franklin’s non-training on team dynamic. Franklin is not only the elder statesman but the central point of a forward line largely made up of first- and second-year players.
They cannot learn his cues and leading patterns or turn to him for advice – Franklin’s game sense and tactical nous is underrated – when he’s not on the training track.
The formline may be trending south for Franklin, and his team, but players of his ilk rally better than most in adversity. He has found a good time to come up against a Collingwood defence ravaged by injury.
“He’s got a history of generally not having two poor games in a row, how many times has he played three bad ones in a row,” Carey said.
“I’m not privy to how serious everything is. The cumulative effect of what he’s going through, he might have hit the wall.
“If Buddy puts his hand up as being fit, off the back of that he’s a proud person and I expect an angry Buddy to come out firing.”