Lance Franklin is set to play his 350th career game against St Kilda on Thursday night (Image: AFL.com/Design: Will Cuckson)

Nineteen years after being selected with Pick 5 of the 2004 AFL Draft, Lance Franklin is on the verge of joining the elite list of names to play 350 games. A marker of talent and consistency, Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin has left a lasting impression on the game, its players, and its fans.

Premiership teammate Brad Sewell spoke to The Inner Sanctum about how he’s seen Franklin’s career progress, and had a message for one of the game’s greatest performers ahead of his milestone match.

“He’s been true to himself,” Sewell told The Inner Sanctum.

“He’ done it in incredible fashion and the right way. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a player like him.

“Most of the other greats are of a certain mold, he breaks the mold, there’s no one like him.”

When Buddy runs out on Thursday night, he’ll become just the 22nd person in history to play 350 games. This elite club makes up 0.17 per cent of every player to play the game, and Sewell believes he’s one of the most unique to reach the mark.

“To play 350 games is extraordinary, for a guy of his size and weight,” he said.

“The way he moves. It’s a truly amazing effort.”

“When people talk about Bud, they talk about his talents or the fact that he’s a freak athlete. But he was an incredibly hard worker. You could sometimes question his balance or discipline early in his career, but it didn’t take him long to figure it out.”

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Despite Buddy’s lengthy career, away from footy, Sewell says his personality was just as large. He was a good friend and someone you’d be lucky to know.

“He’s just like a big puppy dog, a big Dobermann” Sewell said.

“He’s boisterous, enthusiastic, energetic, irrepressible, he just has so much playful energy, super competitive as well. He was just a big kid when he got to the club.

“He had this natural, extraordinary talent, athletically he had a huge engine and could move like the wind, agile as well, and then he just grew into himself.”

In Brad’s first year at the Hawks, they slumped to 15th place on the ladder and took three top-ten picks into the 2004 draft. This landed them the fabled trio of Jarryd Roughead, Jordan Lewis and Lance Franklin.

It would be no secret that the Hawks were unaware of the talent they were harbouring, and Sewell can remember some of his first thoughts of Franklin’s time at the club.

“He was just so raw,” he said.

“He was a young boy. It was his first time in the big smoke, he was easily distracted by bright lights.

“He loved fun and adventure, so it kind of took us a while to mould or shape him so he could learn to become a professional footballer and find that balance.”

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In 2006, Franklin announced himself to the competition with a six-goal haul against Richmond in Round 12. A 19-year-old in his second year, he kicked the first of his 74* hauls of five or more goals (*Correct as of publishing).

It was a tantalising performance as the young star teased the potential of what he could become. It was that moment when Sewell and the Hawks understood the calibre of player they had.

“That [game against Richmond] was the first time we kind of thought ‘what on earth have we got here?’”, he said.

“There were a couple of really special goals in that six if my memory serves me correctly. That bag against Richmond was when we realised the kind of player we had on our hands.”

“We would’ve seen glimpses of it in training, he always had an underlying confidence in what he was doing. So when it came together and we saw him that game against Richmond, we recognised he was going to be more than a flash in the pan. It probably made us work harder.”

If the game against Richmond was his announcement to the league, the first final against Adelaide was the start of his stardom. As the Hawks trailed for the first three quarters, Buddy kicked three final-quarter goals, including one in the dying moments to steal the win for Hawthorn.

This seven-goal performance, in Sewell’s mind, was the true moment when Buddy became one of the competitions most elite performers.

“That was the birth of the rockstar, that was him coming of age,” he said.

“He kicked seven against Adelaide in that first final of 2007, that was the moment he stamped himself. He wanted the ball in his hands, he wanted the pressure, he wanted that responsibility.

“I still remember Rick Ladsen kicked it to him. Bud’s kicked it straight and won the game, and that lasting image of the double pythons to the crowd from behind. That’s still one of the loudest crowds I think I’ve ever played in front of.”

Franklin after kicking the match-winning goal against Adelaide in the 2007 elimination Final (Image: AFL.com)

That night against Adelaide, he made the switch to a higher gear, it was a different level of performance of which the likes Sewell were unprepared.

When Buddy wanted to control a game, there wasn’t much the opposition could do about it.

“He was unstoppable, so dominant, and he had fun doing it,” he said.

“The banter, the sledging. It was never mean or derogatory, he did it in a jovial way. It was almost poking fun at his opponents.

“He was never really arrogant, but he had an underlying confidence that only the best players have.”

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After two flags, 182 games and 580 goals, Franklin called time on his career at the Hawks, moving to Sydney as one of the first major free agents on a mammoth nine year deal.

Despite the move, there was no bad blood between Buddy and the Hawthorn players, it was well understood why he made the switch.

“There was no animosity when he left, you got the sense that it was one of those opportunities that were too good to refuse’” Sewell said.

“Melbourne can be a fishbowl at the best of times, especially when you’re one of, if not the most recognisable person in the city. So I have no doubt the anonymity played a huge role in him going to Sydney.

“He probably still would’ve made it to 350 had he stayed in Melbourne, but I don’t think he would’ve enjoyed his footy as much.”

Through his 10 years at the Swans, he’s stacked on another 477 goals to sit equal fourth all time alongside Doug Wade with a total of 1057. Though he comfortably has the highest points tally of the top five.

His accuracy is no slight on his career, to return a career haul of 1000 goals in today’s game is a monumental achievement and one Sewell thinks should be put in context.

“If you compare the guys around him, they were mostly kick, mark, goal,” he said.

“They generally worked one-on-one coming out of the goalsquare.

“Whereas Bud has done that during an era of zone defence, and more often than not being defended three on two with a loose defender.”

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Though early on in his career, the Hawks questioned whether he was maximising his chances at goal. Across the 2007 and 2008 seasons combined, he retuned 186 goals and 150 behinds.

He kicked more behinds than goals in 15 of the 47 matches across those years, including booting 2.11 against the Bulldogs in ’07. Hawthorn turned to a club legend Jason Dunstall, who ultimately decided to let Franklin figure it out for himself.

“I remember there being an overarching feeling that he was wasting opportunities in front of goal,” Sewell said.

“We had Jason come down to help him out and try straighten him up for a while.

“Even Jason got to a point with that arc, where you’re actually doing him a disservice by trying to straighten him up. That’s when it became in vogue to try stand on the side of his left leg to try and curb that.”

Ultimately, as Franklin prepares for his 350th match, he is already earmarked as one of the games’ greatest players. He’ll go down in history as perhaps the best to ever lace up the boots.

When asked how he would describe Lance Franklin as a footballer, Sewell considered all of the achievements, but settled on the methods that got him there.

“I want to say he’s naturally talented and gifted, but that does a disservice to just how hard he works,” he said.

“He was an incredible trainer, I can still remember some of the running sessions he put himself through.

“He’s an incredible competitor, he had a huge work ethic, and that only helped to build on the talents he was given.”

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