Headline act: Lance Franklin. Photo: Nic WalkerKevin Sheedy says Lance Franklin is a worthy recipient of the baton once carried by Tony Lockett and will follow in the footsteps of the goal-kicking great by becoming one of the AFL’s most important figures in Sydney.
As Franklin prepares to spearhead the Swans’ charge to the grand final in his debut season in the red and white, Sheedy said the superstar forward would prove as significant to the game in Sydney as the late Tom Hafey, Ron Barassi and Lockett were before him.
The Swans, who play North Melbourne on Friday night, are one win away from booking their fourth grand-final appearance in 10 years and though they were successful in 2005 and 2012, interest in the club has spiked this season after landing Franklin in a stunning recruiting coup nearly a year ago.
The club has posted record membership numbers this year, breaking the 40,000 mark for the first time, and their home crowds are up 15 per cent on last year and at their highest since 2007 when the Swans were coming off back-to-back grand finals.
“We all need superstars playing in the teams because that’s what attracts people, people like to watch superstars,” said Sheedy, who won four premierships in a 27-year coaching reign at Essendon before becoming Greater Western Sydney’s inaugural coach and now a club director.
“You have your tough, ruthless types like [Glenn] Archer, people love watching those people play, but at the other end of the ground you have your dynamic goalkickers – players that turn the lights on and make people energise, players like Buddy, Barry Hall and Tony Lockett.”
One of the game’s greatest ambassadors, Sheedy said Franklin deserved to be mentioned alongside former key Swans Hafey, Barassi and Lockett for their impact in Sydney.
Hafey helped put the Swans on the map in the city after their move from South Melbourne in 1982, leading the team to consecutive finals series in 1986-87, while Barassi’s move in 1993 lifted the club from rock bottom.
But the arrival of Lockett, the game’s greatest goalkicker, turned the Swans into one of the glamour sides of the competition.
Sheedy said a grand-final appearance for the Swans this year with Franklin on board could even trump the Lockett era.
“You can look at it that way, ‘Plugger’ [Lockett] was so important for the game up in Sydney at that stage,” Sheedy said.
“Hafey, Barassi and Lockett were the most important steps, one after each other and keeping the flame alight.”
Sheedy also wanted the contributions of Mike Willesee, Basil Sellers and Peter Weinert, who were key financial backers during the club’s dark days of the late 80s and early 90s, acknowledged by the AFL with life membership.
“Those guys are like the disciples of the game in Sydney,” Sheedy said.
Although ensconced in the Giants camp, Sheedy said he wanted to see the Swans win this year’s flag because of the benefits it would bring the game in NSW.
“If Buddy ended up running out there in the grand final, the Swans win the premiership and he kicks four, gives away three, that’d be the perfect ‘fairy time’ story for Swans fans,” Sheedy said.
“I’ll be barracking for the Swans, I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks. We just need the game really going well in NSW, in Sydney and getting kids like [Craig] Bird, Kieren Jack as captain, Jarrad McVeigh – this is exactly what we want.”
He even acknowledged the Swans had succeeded with Franklin in doing what the Giants had hoped to achieve with code-hopper Israel Folau.
“[We were] trying to get a place in the market in Sydney and Buddy’s done it,” Sheedy said.
“If Sydney lose a grand final and Buddy plays terribly then that will be a different example because you have to perform on the big day. They’ve still got to there yet but you have to perform on the big day, simple as that.”