Buddy Franklin Is Ready To Give Everything He’s Got

Buddy Franklin Is Ready To Give Everything He’s Got

This may or may not be Sydney Swans superstar Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin’s ‘Last Dance’ – he’s yet to decide if he’ll play beyond this season. But as he explains to MH in this exclusive interview, he’s ready to give everything he’s got to see if he and his teammates can make a return to ‘The Big Dance’.

Buddy Franklin winks at me as we pass each other between shots on a cool Saturday morning in January at a photo studio in Sydney’s inner west. It’s a wink I feel like I’ve seen him give teammates on the field, the place he feels most at home.

I take it as a sign that he’s relaxed and at ease. I know from the last time I spoke to Franklin, back in 2017, that’s he’s not always comfortable in the spotlight and doesn’t like to engage with the circus that’s surrounded him since his early days in the AFL.

“I’ve never been about myself or individual accolades,” says Franklin, when I chat to him later in a courtyard outside the studio. “I just go about my business nice and quietly and obviously very privately. I’m all about my family and keeping them happy. It’s my personality. To people that know me well, I’m probably an extrovert. But when I don’t know you, I’m pretty introverted and just keep to myself. That’s just who I am.”

Throughout our shoot there have been glimpses of that more extroverted side. “How big do they think I am?” he jokes to his agent after trying on a pair of jeans that are comically large. When our videographer pokes fun at me for saying the Swans are my second team (it’s true!), implying that I’m trying to suck up to Franklin, he laughs along: “He’s on today, isn’t he?” he says of our lippy crew member. In these moments there’s a sparkle in his eyes and you can imagine how playful and fun he probably is in the Swans’ dressing room. “I’m a big kid around the footy club,” says the 36-year-old father of two (Tullulah, 3, and Rocky, 2, with wife Jesinta), who’s joining us today in his capacity as an ambassador for Swisse Vitamins

Buddy Franklin 2023 Men's Health Australia cover shoot

Franklin’s exploits on the field are already etched in AFL folklore. It’s truly boy’s own stuff. Last year’s 1000th goal against Geelong in round two heralded a pitch invasion the likes of which the AFL hadn’t seen since, oh yeah, when Franklin became the last player to kick a hundred goals in a season back in 2008. There are the kicks for goal off one step from 60m out, the dribbles along the ground from deep in the pocket and, best of all, for me anyway, his galvanising multi-bounce runs down the wing before kicking for goal at a full sprint.

Franklin’s celebrations after one of these coruscating feats is unbridled. He either raises his biceps in muscular triumph or opens his arms as teammates descend upon him. In these moments his charisma commands a stadium and practically shoots through your TV screen. 

On the flipside, it’s safe to say that while few players have ever loomed as large on the field, even fewer are as humble as Franklin is off it. Today, for example, when I compare his profile to the late Shane Warne’s, he looks uncomfortable but thanks me for it. When the photographer asks if he prefers to be called Lance or Buddy – a crucial distinction, you might think, between his public and private personas – he says “either’s fine”. It’s textbook good-Aussie-bloke behaviour, the kind of stuff the Swans’ ‘No Dickheads’ policy famously enforced. It’s tempting to cast his reserve and humility as some kind of shy man’s shield – this is, after all, the tallest poppy in a country with the biggest pair of secateurs – but the more you talk to Franklin, the clearer it becomes that it is, as he says, just who he is. It’s who he’s always been. 

A few weeks into preseason training, the game’s biggest star is approaching his 19th and possibly final season – he signed a one-year deal that was announced before last year’s grand final – as he would any other. That one-year deal doesn’t raise the stakes or heighten the pressure he puts on himself, he insists. The lure of another grand final appearance provides all the motivation he needs to summon the determination to succeed. 

Buddy Franklin 2023 Men's Health Australia cover shoot

Indeed, that singular focus might just be the secret to Franklin’s sustained excellence and preposterous longevity, a combination that usually results in statues outside stadiums. You block out all the noise, you brush off all the compliments and you disregard the analyses of your game, intrusions into your private life and clumsy attempts to understand your appeal. Instead, you keep your eyes solely, utterly and unwaveringly on the prize.

How’s your summer been? What have you done to relax? 

Buddy Franklin: This off-season is probably no different to my last 18 off-seasons. You just try to unwind. Obviously playing a full season of football is demanding, so it’s important that you have that time to relax and enjoy some time with the family. We headed up to Queensland, went back to Perth. After a few weeks you get back into training and start getting prepared for the season.

Are you able to fully switch off from football?

Oh, it can be hard, there’s no doubt about that. Being a professional sport, there’s never an off button. I think it’s so demanding, not only physically but mentally, too. You get two to three weeks, physically, just to take a deep breath, rest up your body, and then you’re over sitting around and you’re ready to get back into it. Then you start training on your own and making sure that you’re fit by the time you get back to the team.

How do you normally feel going into a pre-season? Is it something you look forward to or dread?

No, I love it. I’m passionate and I love what I do. I wouldn’t have played for 19 years if I wasn’t. I’m still driven and I’m excited about the year ahead. I wake up every morning excited to get to the club and get the best out of myself and that’s no different this year.

Is there any sense that as you don’t know if this is your last season or not, that you want to savour it?

For me, first and foremost it’s just about enjoying it. I’m not putting any pressure on whether I go on another year or another two years or this is it. I’m just enjoying every day and whatever happens at the end of the year will happen. I’m still passionate and driven to succeed and I think that’s the thing that’s driving me this year: to hopefully win that premiership.

Buddy Franklin 2023 Men's Health Australia cover shoot
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What is the focus of your training this pre-season? 

It doesn’t really change for me. Injury prevention’s a huge thing. Obviously, I’m 36 years of age. So, it’s about looking after myself, keeping my strength up and just getting ready in terms of the conditioning. I think the key to my last couple of years is getting out on the training track and being able to get in a good routine every week. 

Do you do any upper body work?

Well, believe it or not, this year I’ve actually started doing some upper-body strength work. But for the last 10 to 15 years, I hadn’t needed to. This year I’m adding some upper-body moves, like bench press. But man, I’m no
good at that stuff.

Yeah, I’ve heard the early stories about you and chin-ups.

It’s never been great.

Because you’re so tall?

Yeah, because I’m tall and my strength’s okay. I don’t really need to do too much of it.

“You can only get so far with talent after a while those people get work out.”

So, what are you benching?

I’m not happy with it, mate. We keep the reps low ’cause if I go too heavy, I put on too much weight.

Last time I spoke to you we talked about a time in your early days at Hawthorn when you ran 18 150s in a row. And you weren’t letting anyone beat you. You wanted to beat Shane Crawford, who was one of your heroes. Could you do something like that these days?

Oh no. That was when I was 21, 22. The young guys are running similar sets these days. But my program is different to what the young guys do because the average age at the club is 23, 24. So, there are a lot of young kids that are obviously doing the full training whereas as I’ve got my program prescribed for me. But in the next four to six weeks my load will start picking up so that I’m ready for round one.

What will that load be at the peak?

Oh, for the younger guys in pre-season you’re looking at doing a 10 to 12k session on a Monday. They’ll do another 10k session on the Wednesday. I don’t do the Wednesday session. And then on Friday another 10 to 12 kilometres. So, a lot of the guys are doing over 30 kilometres a week. And that’s for three months. They’re getting the guys super fit. I’ll be doing Monday and Friday between eight to 11 kilometres – that’s skills and running. Endurance as well as speed work. The focus is on repeat efforts and working on your skills under fatigue. 

That’s a hard load for a 36-year-old. How much is your body feeling it?

Physically, I feel pretty good. The last two years I’ve felt good. I still feel that physically I can compete and play the game. But obviously I’m not the athlete I once was. I’m not as fast as I was or as agile. That comes with being 36. But yes, I still feel I can compete at this level and the enjoyment is still there. We’ve got a lot of young kids at the footy club. So, for me, helping those boys come through is what I’m enjoying.

Track star

To keep up with the demands of the modern game and its requirement for repeat efforts, Franklin prioritises interval training. “A long time ago the game was all about long-distance running, but these days it’s all about repeat speed, repeat efforts. It’s just stop start. You’ve just got to be fast,” he says. To run like a racehorse all day long, Franklin does the following: 150m X 8 reps. Run the distance, rest 45 seconds, run again.

You’ve had your share of injuries, but it seems to me that you always come back strongly.

Thank you.

Why do you think that is?

For me it’s passion. I think if you’re passionate about something you can change and you can get better and improve. Missing a year of football [in 2020] with the recurrence of hamstring problems was a devastating year for me. I’d played 16 years without injury and then suddenly missing a whole season was taxing on me mentally and physically. But I knew that if I put in the work, had a really good off-season and got stronger in the gym that I could bounce back. I just put a real focus on, Okay, this is what I need to do to get back out there and really went to work on it. I’ve been able to play the last two years and it’s been great.

Yeah, you’ve maintained a level of consistency and there hasn’t been any noticeable decline in your play.

Some people might think differently.

Did you ever expect to be able to play this well, this late in your career?

It’s not something I ever thought about. Did I think I’d play until 30? I don’t know. For me it’s more about that passion. I love what I do. I love being out there, I love playing in front of big crowds, I love playing with the young boys. If you’re passionate about something then it’s easy to get up and go to work, isn’t it? 

Buddy Franklin 2023 Men's Health Australia cover shoot

Obviously when you signed your 10-year contract there were some who didn’t think you would see it through or that you might be a shadow of yourself in your twilight years. But guys like you LeBron, Brady, Nadal just seem to keep going. Would you say it’s a point of pride in yourself to maintain consistency as you age?

Totally, totally. I think when you’ve played the game for so long at a high level there’s a level of expectation to play well every week. That’s just the pressure I put on myself. I want to play at a high level for as long as I can. And I think it can be frustrating when you don’t get to that level. So, you just put pressure on yourself to be at your best.

Did the detractors or people who questioned that contract add any motivation for you? Or would you say you’re just competitive by nature?

I’m just competitive. People are going to have their say – that’s just part and parcel of the media. For me, it was just about competing, getting out there and loving what I do.

You said to me last time we spoke that sometimes people look at your exploits on the field and put them down to natural talent without fully appreciating the work that you do in training or on the track. Is that part of the equation when you’re gifted?

There’s no doubt that can happen, but I think you can only get so far with talent. You can play for a few years and get away with it, but after a while those people get worked out and they’re out of the system. I’ve always prided myself on working hard, getting the best out of myself, and I think there’s no doubt that’s why I’ve lasted this long.

Can you take us back to the day after last year’s grand final? Where were you and how were you feeling?

At 10 o’clock in the morning we were on a bus going to the airport and then we were flying back to Sydney. I’ve played in six grand finals. Losing is the worst feeling you can possibly have as a player, as a team and as an individual. There’s nothing worse. It’s devastating. There’s so much work to get there and that was the most disappointing thing about last year. But I’m all about growing and getting better. And for us, we’re such a young group, I can only see us getting better. The way we’re training at the moment and the way we’re preparing, I think if we keep working hard, hopefully that premiership could be there this year. That’s the thing that’s driving me this year.

“I’ll definitely stay fit. Exercising is a huge thing for my mental health. I need to do that.”

When you look back at it, what do you think went wrong for you and the team that day?

We just got beaten by a better team on the day, that was hungrier than us. We had a really positive year. To make the grand final, I look at that and go, Wow, that’s an incredible thing to do. Two years before that we were at the bottom of the ladder. So, we turned things around really quickly and were able to make a grand final well before anyone even thought it possible.

You had already made the decision to play on at that point, but did the loss give you any sense that ‘there’s no way I can go out like this’?

No, not really. I’d already made my decision. I’ve lost three grand finals at the Swans, so I’ve got that motivation to keep going. They’ve all been bad losses. After any grand final you lose you always have that feeling that you don’t want that ever to happen again. We just have to lick our wounds and go again.

Let’s talk about your 1000th goal in round two last year. Had you thought about it before the game?

No doubt. I think I just wanted to get it done. I thought this is the night I want to do it because we were away the next week. I was like, all my family’s here – they’d flown over to watch round one and then they were here in Sydney for round two and if I didn’t get it they would’ve been away from home for three weeks. My sister flew in from LA. So, I was like, It needs to happen tonight! I put the pressure on myself as I always do before games. I was lucky that we were on fire. The boys were playing some really good football and it couldn’t have unfolded any better. I think once it was done, it started raining, you know what I’m saying? It was just a special night. Something I’ll never forget.

With the kick itself, did you go into your normal routine?

Well, I was just thinking, I better not miss this, I better not miss this. But the first couple of kicks I’d had, I was kicking well, so I was pretty confident. But there are always those doubts, especially when the pressure’s on. 

And the aftermath? Did the reaction surprise you?

Not really. Obviously, it was full on. But it was just incredible. It really was. For me to do it in front of my home crowd, in front of our great supporters, was just a special time and then to share that with the boys from the footy club, staff and then my family and my wife was amazing. My son wasn’t there because he ended up having to go home because he was too tired. But Tullulah was there, so she stayed up and then it was 12 at night! So, to have a couple of beers with the boys, enjoy it for what it was and then see my family, there’s nothing better.

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The last time a crowd invaded the field was in 2008 for your hundredth goal of the season. Can you compare those two moments and what they meant to you?

I think in 2008 I was 21. I was a kid when that happened. You probably don’t realise how special it is because you think it’s going to happen every year. This time my life was completely different. Married, two kids, life’s just changed completely. This time I was like, Okay, if I ever get the opportunity to kick a hundred goals or ever get to a thousand, I’m really going to enjoy it and really soak it up. And this time I really did that. Once I kicked the goal, I was like, You know what, I’m going to really enjoy this moment. It’ll probably never happen again. So, I lapped it all up to give back to the supporters that ran out there.

The fact that no one has kicked a hundred in a season since makes it even more special, don’t you think?

Yeah, the game’s changed. Back then you’d have one focal point that you were always going to kick to whereas now you’ve got multiple options, four or five different guys – which is much better for the game. But supporters love seeing guys kick goals and kick big goals. I’d love to see a guy come in and kick a hundred goals again, but I can’t see it happening for a very long time.

You mentioned your family. You’re a father to two young children, Tullulah and Rocky. How has the experience of fatherhood compared to your expectations of what it would be like?

I don’t think I had any expectations. I was pretty cruisy. That’s just my nature – take it as it comes and learn as you go. But it’s been unbelievable. It really has. I couldn’t see my life without them. It really does put things in perspective. Football can be a highly stressful game. And just being able to come home to your kids and see a big smile on their faces and see them happy and healthy, that’s what drives me every day.

Buddy Franklin 2023 Men's Health Australia cover shoot

What in your childhood do you look back most fondly on?

Being outdoors. As kids me and my sisters were outdoors all day. We grew up on a small farm where we were kicking the ball around, going to netball, just a lot of sport. Our Saturdays and Sundays were taken up by sport from the age of six. 

You’re very selective about companies and causes you put your name to. What was it about Swisse that appealed to you?

Being a professional athlete, you always want to live a healthy lifestyle. And to align myself with such an iconic brand in Swisse was a no-brainer. It’s just an awesome brand and I’m proud to be associated with it.

Aside from exercise, which you obviously get plenty of, what else do you do to take care of your health and fitness?

Sleep’s really important. Getting eight to nine hours a night has been a real key to what I do. Even though I’ve got two kids, my wife allows me to get my sleep in. She knows how important it is for me to perform to make sure I’m fully recovered for training and ready to go. Hydration is also huge. People don’t realise how important it is. You think a lot clearer when you’re hydrated and it’s obviously crucial to performance. So, it’s sleep, hydration and good food.

Do you meditate at all?

I do, but not daily. I tend to meditate on game day. There’s obviously a lot of things that go on in your mind before a game, so I usually do 10 to 15 minutes before I jump in the car or get on the bus to go to the game. It’s just to have that time, to take some deep breaths to relieve stress. As soon as you’re done you feel like, Okay, I’m ready to go.

How do you think you’ll approach your health and fitness after you stop playing? Do you think you’ll enjoy exercising on your own terms, rather than having a program to follow and benchmarks to hit? 

I think I’ll definitely stay fit. Exercising is a huge thing for my mental health. I need to do that. But I think when I’m retired, I’m going to try to do a marathon. I enjoy running. There are things like that that I’d love to tick off. Everything has been so structured for me for so long. I’m guided by a diary every day telling me this is what time you’ve got to be here; this is what time this is on. So, I’m looking forward to not having that and to doing things that I haven’t been able to do, like skiing and surfing. 

So, there’s no chance of you letting yourself go?

No, as I said, for my mental health, exercise is the big thing. That’s what I love to do so why would you go away from it?

You became a member of the Swans leadership group in 2020. How did you find that?

I’ve loved it. I think as I’ve got older and found my place at the club it’s been a natural progression for me to be in the leadership group and it’s something I enjoy. I’m nearly double these boys’ ages now, so it’s just come naturally. If I can help them out in any way, I’m always there with a shoulder to lean on.

Do you notice the age gap at times?

No. I think it’s probably kept me a little bit younger, to be honest with you. We’ve got a club full of characters. They’re all their own men and I think that’s something that I’ve loved being a part of.

Buddy Franklin 2023 Men's Health Australia cover shoot

Is your leadership style mostly by example?

It was. As I’ve got older, I’ve learned to use my voice around the football club, helping players out, and if I see something then saying it.

What are you looking forward to most in retirement when it does finally happen?

Well, it could be in 10 years! It’s not something I want to be thinking about right now. But travel would be a big thing. Going overseas, maybe living there for six months. When you’ve been in one thing for half your life there’s always things that you’ve had to give up and for us it’s travel. Right now, if you do travel, you’re always thinking in the back of your mind, Hey, I’ve got to be prepared for next season

You are one of the few Australian athletes, especially among AFL players, who truly has a national profile and transcends codes and even sport. You’re probably on the Shane Warne/Ian Thorpe level. How do you feel about that kind of profile and prominence?

It’s not something I’ve given too much thought to. It’s great to be put up on that pedestal, but it’s not something that keeps me up at night. I just like going out there and having fun and enjoying what I do, and if that makes people happy and they love seeing that, then that’s great. But it’s a great compliment. Thank you.

How would you like to be remembered?

As a player, as someone that was trustworthy. I think trust is a big thing. Trust that you’re going to be able to go out there and compete, give your all every week. That’s the most important thing in terms of earning respect from your teammates. As a person, being genuine and loving to the people who are close to me. 

By Ben Jhoty

Ben Jhoty, Men’s Health’s Head of Content, attempts to honour the brand’s health-conscious, aspirational ethos on weekdays while living marginally larger on weekends. A new father, when he’s not rocking an infant to sleep, he tries to get to the gym, shoot hoops and binge on streaming shows.

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