This data shows why Buddy Franklin may be footy’s greatest-ever forward

When Lance “Buddy” Franklin kicked his 1,000th goal, he became only the sixth player in more than a century of the AFL and its predecessor, the VFL, to achieve the feat.

That puts the Sydney Swans key forward in the top 0.05 per cent of players, joining all-time greats Tony Lockett, Gordon Coventry, Jason Dunstall, Doug Wade and Gary Ablett Sr.

To put into context just how rare Lance Franklin’s 1,000th goal is, it helps to look at how he compares to the thousands of other male football players who’ve taken to the field since the league’s inception in 1897.

Just 12 players (0.09 per cent) have managed to kick 800 goals or more, and with the exception of Franklin, none of them started their careers after the year 2000.

Nick and his cousin Jack Riewoldt, with more than 700 goals apiece, are the closest modern-day players who started playing AFL after 2000. But only Jack is still playing.

“[Franklin] is well in advance of anyone else we’ve seen from a goal-kicking perspective in this generation,” football data analyst Daniel Hoevenaars said.

Even if we look back at all the players who’ve kicked more than 100 goals, that’s still only 8 per cent of the entire playing pool. In 2008, Franklin kicked 100 goals in a single season, making him the last player to achieve the feat.

In fact, the majority of players kicked fewer than 10 goals throughout their entire playing careers.

And many of them have not even kicked a single goal.

Granted, quite a few of that group may have only played one or two games. Others, like Collingwood defender Ted Potter, managed a lengthy career spanning 182 VFL games for Collingwood in the ’60s and early ’70s without registering a single major.

AFL legend Kevin Bartlett, who kicked 778 goals for Richmond in his 403-game career, said reaching the 1,000-goal milestone was a marvellous achievement for an extraordinary player.

“Let’s face it. When he first went to Sydney on what was a 10-year deal. Everyone sort of laughed and scoffed and said ‘you’ll never get there’. But he’s got it,” Bartlett said.

“He’s one of the iconic modern-day great players.”

For a career so filled with accolades — two premierships, four Coleman medals [most goals in the home and away season], an eight-time All-Australian and captain of the Indigenous All Stars — Franklin’s debut for Hawthorn in 2005 was modest.

The 18-year-old Noongar-Whadjuk man managed six disposals and failed to register a score in his first AFL game against eventual premiers for that year, the Swans.

Despite kicking just 21 goals for the season in an up-and-coming Hawks team, his potential was obvious. A 199-centimetre forward with a booming left foot and a drive for success. He was also mobile enough to run with the best midfielders.

Lance FranklinLance Franklin
Lance Franklin in one of his first AFL games.(Getty Images: Mark Dadswell)
Lance FranklinLance Franklin
One of Franklin’s 31 goals in the 2006 season.(Getty Images: Quinn Rooney)
Lance Franklin celebrates a goalLance Franklin celebrates a goal
Lance Franklin celebrates a goal in only the second season of his career.(Getty Images: Ryan Pierse)

David Rath was a sports biomechanics expert who started at Hawthorn around the same time as Franklin and worked closely with the key forward in his years at the Hawks.

Rath, who is now the head of St Kilda’s football program, first met Buddy as a 16-year-old at a training camp for young footballers at the Australian Institute of Sport.

“He was all legs and quite light-framed at that stage and just full of energy,” Rath said.

“He was just different. He moved differently. You could see he had attributes that others didn’t have.”

Rath said he still recalls one of Franklin’s first running time trials around Caulfield Park in Melbourne for the Hawks.

“I remember Bud taking off, and he didn’t know how good he was at this stage, and he took off and he was so far ahead that he actually stopped. I think he felt a bit nervous,” he said.

From this raw, energetic teenager he quickly developed into a crucial member of the Hawks forward line.

He showed glimpses of what was to come in 2006, but it wasn’t until the following year that he truly cemented his place as one of the AFL’s most exciting new prospects.

Franklin kicked 73 goals for the season, topped off with seven goals in an elimination final against Adelaide. The seventh of which came in the dying moments of the match to seal the win.

The goal showcased two key traits that would become synonymous with Lance Franklin: he dazzled in the big moments and he was lethal from well beyond the 50-metre arc.

Data collected by football analytics company Champion Data, shows the segments in the forward half of the ground where Franklin kicked every single one of his goals across his career.

The overwhelming majority of goals in football are kicked from inside 50 metres, but in Franklin’s breakout 2007 season for Hawthorn, we can begin to see just how he broke that mould.

Franklin kicked almost 60 per cent of his 73 goals for the year beyond the 40-metre mark, and a fifth from beyond the 50-metre mark.

The next year he led the league in goal kicking with 100 majors in the home-and-away season and won his first premiership.

His long-range dominance was again on display. After goals from less than 15 metres out directly in front, his next best scoring zone was from an angle on the left, outside 50m.

It was a trend that would continue throughout his career. In the first year of his freshly minted 10-year, $10 million deal that saw him leave the Hawks for Sydney, he once again led the AFL for goals kicked. More than half of his 79 goals for the season came from beyond 40 metres that year.

2015 saw the star forward struggle with both physical and mental health issues and as a result it was the first year since 2006 that he failed to kick more than 50 goals.

It was also one of only two years in his career where he failed to kick a goal from his favourite left angle zone outside 50.

In 2017, he claimed his fourth Coleman Medal, kicking twice as many goals from outside 40m as he did from inside 30 metres.

Across his career, Franklin’s two best scoring ranges were from 40-50 metres and beyond 50. Just under 20 per cent of his career goals came from outside 50m.

Compared to the other leading goal-kickers of his generation, Franklin’s dominance from long range is unparalleled.

The long-range shot was a vital tool for Franklin in reaching 1,000 goals, especially in the modern era of the game known for its tight zone defence and congested forward lines.

One of the benefits of crowding forward lines is that defenders can more easily intercept kicks and cut off players leading for the ball. It prevents forwards from taking marks deep inside 50 metres, giving them a relatively easy set shot for goal.

This was the bread and butter of full-forwards in the ’80s and ’90s and resulted in an era of prolific scoring. The average goals for a side per game peaked at 16.2 in 1982. Last year, it was just 11.5 — the lowest since 1968.

“Once, you used to have a ruckman falling back, maybe across half-back or playing a kick behind the play – we’re talking about in the Tony Lockett, Jason Dunstall era,” Bartlett said.

“But you look up now and see 34 players all inside 50 makes it very, very difficult.”

Not only has it resulted in much less scoring, but it has meant that key forwards are kicking a smaller percentage of a team’s total goals per game.

In Franklin’s first year of AFL, the league’s bosses were still coming to terms with this new style of play. Then-AFL boss Andrew Demetriou called it “ugly” football.

But Franklin’s skills were, in a way, the perfect counter to this defensive era. While he may not have been the best mark of the football, he made up for it in speed, agility and the ability to kick goals from distance.

This ability forced opposition defences to spread out and cover more area. Even when Franklin wasn’t scoring he was opening up space for his teammates.

“If you’ve got players who aren’t a threat out there, and you watch smart defenders, they’ll just lay off them and say ‘well you can have it out there’,” Rath said.

“But if you lay off Bud, if you give him any space at all, you know he’s just gonna roll and reel around and have a shot from 60 without any problems at all. And it’s a massive threat.”

One of the reasons Franklin has been so successful from distance has been his unique kicking technique.

An action that sees him arc around dramatically to his left before making contact with the ball. The arc allows him to generate even more rotation and power through his kick.

When he plants his right foot before he kicks the ball, this forms a central axis for his long legs to swivel around, generating all the torque he needs to launch the ball goalwards from well beyond the 50-metre mark.

It’s an action that takes skill and timing to pull off but it also has its flaws. Because he doesn’t run directly at the goals and his body and ball are at an angle when he makes contact with the kick, it means Franklin’s putting both backspin and sidespin on the ball.

That sidespin alters the flight of the ball. On a correctly timed kick, the ball will first move up and to the right before straightening up and curling back to the left.

Kicking expert David Rath worked with Franklin to refine his technique, figuring out how to compensate for the ball movement from different locations and how to do that under pressure.

“Because he shaped the ball significantly, when you’re kicking from 30 metres out in the right forward pocket, it’s a very different kick to kicking from 30 metres out in the left forward pocket because of his ball shape,” Rath said.

“A lot of the journey of skill and expertise is about self-understanding and awareness. And you know, as he got more mature, he definitely refined his understanding of what he can do with the footy.”

The greatest of all time?

Lance Franklin makes contact with the ball as he kicks for goalLance Franklin makes contact with the ball as he kicks for goal
Franklin kicks his 1000th AFL goal.(Getty Images: Cameron Spencer)
Lance Franklin holds his arms out and yells in delight as fans start running toward himLance Franklin holds his arms out and yells in delight as fans start running toward him
Buddy Franklin celebrates his 1,000th goal.(Getty Images: Cameron Spencer)
Lance Franklin is held aloft by a sea of people who have run on to the SCGLance Franklin is held aloft by a sea of people who have run on to the SCG
Footy fans piled onto the field to celebrate the Franklin’s 1000th goal.(Getty Images: Michael Willson)

There’s no question that Lance Franklin is a superstar of the game and one of the greatest forwards of all time. Kicking his 1,000th goal further cements his position among other greats of the game.

But given that the game has changed so much over the decades, how does he really compare to those greats?

Daniel Hoevenaars, who runs the blog InsightLane, pondered this exact question.

To answer it, he developed a model of era-adjusted goals. Every goal kicked by every single player since 1897 was adjusted based on the goal-kicking conditions of the era they played in.

The adjustments were made based on two key factors: the average number of goals a team would kick in the season and how widely shared the goal kicking was in a team.

So players who played in the mid ’80s, for example, when scoring was high and key forwards kicked the majority of goals, would be penalised. Whereas, current-day players would have their goals adjusted upwards because scoring is so low and more players on a team kick goals.

When Hoevenaars ran the analysis, Franklin, who sits sixth on the all-time goal-kicking list, jumped to second based on the era-adjusted goals. Only Tony Lockett sits ahead of him in this ranking.

“Within a season [he] could be surpassing Tony Lockett when considering the conditions and the eras that he played in,” Hoevenaars said.

“What struck me is, is he underrated from an historical point of view? And should he be better considered as one of the greatest, if not the greatest goal-kicker of all time, given the relatively difficult goal-kicking conditions that he’s played in?”

Data used in this story

Data used to visualise every player in VFL/AFL history and the average goals per team is courtesy of the amazing database at AFL Tables. Lance Franklin’s goal location data courtesy of Champion Data. Era-adjusted goal data courtesy of Daniel Hoevenaars at Insight Lane.

Images used in this story

Lance Franklin in the 2013 AFL Grand Final — Hawthorn v Fremantle Getty: Quinn Rooney,

Lance Franklin in round 8, 2016 — Richmond v Sydney AFL Media/Getty: Darrian Traynor

Lance Franklin at the SCG in Sydney, Saturday, August 4, 2018. AAP: Dylan Coker

Tony Lockett in 1999, Getty

Nick Riewoldt 2020 AAP: David Crosling

Lance Franklin in 2007Getty: Mark Dadswell

Lance Franklin training in 2008, Getty: Quinn Rooney

Lance Franklin in action in 2014. AAP: Ben Macmahon

Lance Franklin celebrates after scoring a goal in 2015. AAP: Mick Tsikas

Lance Franklin celebrates a goal in 2017 AFL Media/Getty: Cameron Spencer

Tom Hawkins in 2020 AAP: Darren England

Josh Kennedy in 2018 AAP: Richard Wainwright

Matthew Pavlich ABC: Emma Wynne

Eddie Betts in 2019 Getty: Quinn Rooney



Author: Ivan Robinson