Why Saturday doesn’t really matter for Pat and Bud

Winning a premiership should be a cherry on top of a player’s résumé, rather than a token used to validate a career. Patrick Dangerfield and Lance Franklin are two of the top 15 players since the turn of the century, yet the 2022 AFL Grand Final is being positioned as a landmark occasion for both.

In Dangerfield, we have one of the best midfielders in modern history who, for one reason or another, irks opposition fans.

As such, many overlook his stellar achievements – he’s an eight-time All-Australian, four-time best and fairest, a Brownlow Medallist, an AFLCA Champion Player of the Year and a Leigh Matthews Trophy winner.

It’s a mystery as to why Dangerfield receives the amount of criticism he does. Legitimate reasons are rare, although it’s easy enough to not put any weight into the large majority who recycle the same, nonsense material.

More specifically to the point however, this Saturday’s season finale is going to have very little reputational influence on the perception of Dangerfield as a player.

Of course, we tend to get caught up in the moment and recency bias is the be-all and end-all.

If Geelong is unsuccessful, the microscope will be on how the 32-year-old plays, no doubt with negative tints on the lens. He could win the Norm Smith on a losing team and be criticised for not dragging his club over the line.

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Similarly, a win for the Cats and an average Dangerfield performance will be met with equal criticism. Calls of being “carried to a flag” will no doubt spring to mind.

Ultimately, it’s a lose-lose unless he’s best on ground in a win, which is entirely possible, yet realistically, irrelevant.

Because perception is only really a “right now” sort of thing. Whether it actually holds any weight can be questioned itself, but people are only really interested in talking about what’s right in front of them.

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When Dangerfield retires, maybe give it a couple of years post-AFL exit, the masses will remember him fondly, with his peak almost untouchable.

Between 2012 and 2019, the veteran played 184 games. In that time, he averaged 27.43 disposals, 6.33 clearances and 5.6 inside 50s.

He kicked 212 goals, had 128 goal assists and polled 200 Brownlow votes.

The fact this is only his second Grand Final isn’t his doing, it speaks to the inbuilt difficulty in the AFL, where even very, very good teams find it tough to reach the pinnacle.

Upon reflection, Dangerfield’s status as a premiership player or otherwise is likely a footnote on an illustrious career, a trivia novelty question that will label him as unlucky, rather than place the blame solely on his shoulders if his ventures are unsuccessful.

Consider the reaction when premierships are used to compare players, how meaninglessly weighted the majority feel such discourse is to achieving glory when in reality, a team game dictates a player’s success in this category, rather than the player themselves.

St Kilda has won one premiership in its history. Does that mean the likes of Nick Riewoldt, Robert Harvey and even Tony Lockett are lesser players than others who have won a flag?

Ultimately, many will feel inclined to be critical of Dangerfield either way by the end of Saturday’s game when in reality, the result has no influence on his overall standing as a legendary AFL figure at all.

Hindsight will remember him with fondness once his playing days are over regardless. There’s just a part of avid AFL fans that wish all the champions of the game could experience the team success they deserve.

Franklin, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish altogether.

Can you believe that there are still a minority who believe his move to Sydney has been a failure?

Buddy’s nine-year deal was ridiculous at the time, an impossibility to be seen out. His re-signing for a 10th season as the Swans is telling.

Let’s be pretty blunt here – the acquisition of Lance Franklin has been an absolute success for Sydney and again, the premiership is simply a cherry on top, rather than the final marker to determine the trade’s validity.

Lance Franklin of the Swans celebrates kicking his 1000th AFL goal.

Lance Franklin of the Swans celebrates kicking his 1000th AFL goal. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Having arguably the highest-profile player move to a state that is continuing to fight for its fans despite the club’s incredible consistency as a powerhouse has been incredibly beneficial.

Franklin’s a rockstar in a sport that only has a couple at any given time. Remember, this isn’t the NBA with franchise stars all of the country, or soccer with global recognisability.

The 35-year-old transcends the sport where he kicks a ball through, hopefully, the two big sticks in the middle and the impact he has had on Sydney has gone beyond that.

By the end of his career, he’ll have spent more time in New South Wales than he did in Victoria, albeit having played fewer games at his current club.

A third premiership this weekend will only serve as a way to describe him in the future, but it won’t affect his legacy at the Swans.

Perhaps it’s what Hawthorn fans are most scared of – winning a premiership at Sydney means he will have done it at both clubs and will perhaps, in their eyes, solidify Franklin as being remembered for his exploits in red and white.

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Of course, unlike Dangerfield, Franklin’s stature in the game in the eyes of AFL fans is set in stone.

All Australian on eight occasions, a Coleman Medallist four times and a club-leading goal-kicker 12 times with the potential for a 13th in his final season, Buddy is one of the greatest forwards of all time.

He has 100-plus goals at four venues, has the most Brownlow votes in history by a forward and will have kicked the fourth-most goals in the history of the VFL/AFL.

And really, if we’re talking about legacies, that’s what will be remembered.

You can associate Franklin with the Hawks or the Swans and either way, you’d be right.

A premiership doesn’t actually change that, nor does it change whether Sydney should have got him in the first place.

When the players are as good as the likes of Dangerfield and Franklin, we quickly realise that their careers aren’t going to be defined by what happens this Saturday.

When we think about the legends of the game, we don’t measure them by the Premierships they’ve won or lost. We don’t look at their specific performances in a certain game, nor does anyone with a clue compare players by this metric.

Footy is a team game and a premiership is ultimate reward for team success.

We’re talking about two of the greatest players to ever play the game and that transcends how their team plays in any specific year.

Whoever has a premiership medal around their neck come the end of the 2022 season will have to find more space in the pool room.

But Patrick Dangerfield and Lance Franklin have enough accolades to cement their on-field legacies as two of the very best and Saturday simply won’t change that.

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