Blight: Buddy’s back, and revives a ton of AFL dreams
HE'S back. And he has mates.
Hitting the pillow on Thursday night - after a new AFL season opened with a new hero, Charlie Curnow at Carlton, stepping up on the big stage - made for a great dream. There will be an AFL player who kicks the ton again.
Going to sleep on Sunday night - after a new stadium opened in Perth with an old hero, Lance "Buddy" Franklin, kicking eight - made for the most beautiful recurring dream. There is going to be more than one player genuinely chasing 100 goals this season.
We might be back in the late 80s and early 90s with Tony Lockett and Jason Dunstall in a running battle to win the Coleman Medal as the AFL's leading goalkicker - while breaking the century.
Who would not want that dream to come true?
Football is full of big statements (quite a few signed, M. Blight). But the declaration that - in this "modern era" of team defence and team attack - there will never again be a 100-goal AFL forward is hogwash.
It often pays to look back to see what is coming next. Look at the history books. There was no century goalkicker until 1929 when Collingwood great Gordon Coventry kicked 124. For the next 11 years, Coventry was part of a golden era for goalkicking in Australian football with Bob Pratt at South Melbourne and Jack Titus at Richmond in the VFL and Ken Farmer (North Adelaide) and Jack Owens (Glenelg) in the SANFL.
Australian football had the phenomenon of the grand goalkicker - among other things - halt with World War II in the 1940s. The legendary John Coleman revived the race to the ton in 1949 at Essendon - and was sadly cut down by a serious knee injury. There would never be another Coleman ... so we thought.
Then the game discovered Peter Hudson at Hawthorn. His 125 goals in 1968 ended a 16-year wait for the next century goalkicker.
After Lockett kicked 107 goals in 1998, the AFL had a decade with no-one cracking the ton in the home-and-away series until Franklin kicked 102 at Hawthorn in 2008. And another decade has passed with that big statement: "We won't see the ton kicked again."
There are some big forwards who are going to make you think again if you believe that big statement. Franklin. Joe Daniher at Essendon, if someone can sort out his kicking. Jeremy Cameron at the Giants. Charlie Dixon can at Port Adelaide, but he might be finding less opportunity in a loaded attack with Jack Watts, Steven Motlop and Todd Marshall now. Ben Brown at North Melbourne. Tom Lynch at Gold Coast.
And Charlie Curnow! Ready for another big statement? He is the next John Coleman, Peter Hudson and "Buddy". He has all the attributes to be a great player - and a superb goalkicker. His work in winning the ball at ground level is as good as there is.
So the dream is alive again. A group of kids, some as old as 15, have grown up never seeing a forward kick his 100th goal in a season - and having reason to run on the field to congratulate him.
A new experience awaits them with Curnow. And these kids will fall in love with the game in the same way we did - as I did from those days in the SANFL watching Port Adelaide's Rex Johns kick bags of goals at Alberton.
A couple of questions need to be answered along the way. Who killed the century goalkicker? And who revived him?
The fault for recent drought can be put at the feet of the new-age coaches, the ones who became full-time coaches - and developed a defensive mindset to save their jobs. Nothing is more bizarre than the current-day AFL coach saying that "no team should rely on one player to kick all the goals".
No player is going to kick all 300 goals in a season. And does Sydney coach John Longmire bench "Buddy" after he has kicked four goals in the first 40 minutes of Sunday's match because the Swans don't want to be seen as reliant on Franklin?
The praise for reviving the century goalkicker goes to those who came up with the 10-metre protection zone on the mark, new AFL football boss Steve Hocking and the umpires for enforcing this rule with 50-metre penalties that have opened the game - and the coaches who have taken advantage of this space to reintroduce the long kick to leading forwards.
It has made for a better game. With the exception of the game played in the swimming pool at Cairns on Saturday night, the opening round delivered an attractive game. Six of the 18 teams broke the watershed 100-point barrier. Another four had scores in the 90s.
And some forwards revived the dream of someone - perhaps more than one player - kicking the ton again. It is a beautiful dream.