The footy world was rocked when it was revealed that Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin would be joining Sydney – not GWS – as a free agent last year on an unprecedented nine-year, $10 million contract.
Only 12 months prior, the then reigning premiers Sydney had shocked everyone by having a spare $1 million left in their salary cap to throw at want-away Adelaide forward Kurt Tippett.
What followed was outrage from opposition clubs and supporters alike. Soon after Franklin’s defection to Sydney was made public, Collingwood president Eddie McGuire told AFL360 “this is ridiculous: it is a straight-forward rort.”
You could scarcely go five minutes listening to SEN late last year without another disgruntled supporter ringing up to complain about the cost of living allowance as thousands echoed McGuire’s sentiment.
They had the right to be angry. Following Sydney’s 2012 premiership the Swans had added two elite forwards – including the best in the competition – and had given up little.
As shocked as opposition supporters and officials were nobody was quite as surprised as GWS were. After spending most of 2013 courting Franklin, soon to be head coach Leon Cameron and list manager Stephen Silvagni thought they had their man with a six-year deal worth $1.2 million per year.
The Giants were left on the back foot by Franklin’s choice to join their neighbours. Without a back-up plan and the need to add experience to a side that won just one game in 2013 obvious, GWS were forced to make plans on the run.
GWS quickly signed Sydney ruckman Shane Mumford in a move that seemed more like an attempt to get one back at Sydney more than an attempt to improve their list.
Heath Shaw, Josh Hunt, Dylan Addison and Jed Lamb also joined Mumford at the Giants. None are the face of a franchise that Franklin would have been, but all are much-needed mature heads in a locker room full of 20-year-olds.
Although getting Franklin would have been a major coup for the new kids on the block and provided much-needed marketability to the team in rugby league heartland, the Giants will ultimately be better in the long-run without Franklin.
In Jeremy Cameron, Jonathan Patton and Tom Boyd, GWS have three of the best young forwards in the competition who would have had their development and opportunity limited by Franklin being shoehorned into the mix.
While Franklin struggled on his Sydney debut – gathering just seven disposals and kicking one goal – it was Mumford, Shaw and Hunt who stood up for the Giants.
The difference a few experienced heads can make showed, as the Giants’ young stars showed patience with the ball where last year they might have blazed away and hoped for the best: we were watching boys become men before our eyes.
Shane Mumford’s impact was especially profound against his former club. The big man had 45 hitouts and played a big a part as any in GWS winning the clearance count 55-37, making the job of midfielders like Callan Ward much easier.
It was just one game and as we have seen countless times before in footy things can change in a heartbeat, but Franklin failed to have an impact on the contest that was begging for a Sydney player to take control.
When Franklin marked outside 50 in the first term and immediately played on to let loose a 55 metre bomb that sailed right over the umpire’s hat, the signs looked ominous for GWS.
That was as far as Franklin’s impact stretched though with Phil Davis showing the ability that had Adelaide supporters mourning his defection to the expansion club in 2012, restricting the competition’s best forward to a mere bystander.
When the final siren blew on Saturday evening it was the Giants rejoicing in a fairytale victory. If the Giants can play like this consistently in 2014, Franklin may be left lamenting his choice. One thing for sure though is that his decision was a blessing in disguise for GWS.