A Buddy big relief for Bombers

Of the expected six players missing from Hawthorn’s premiership 22 for Friday night’s blockbuster against Essendon, there is one whose absence is of particular relief to the Bombers. No, it is not Brian Lake, although the thought of Joe Daniher or Jake Carlisle muscling an undersized Hawk defender in a manner they would be unable to do to Lake, must have crossed the mind of Bombers coach Mark Thompson.

The answer is Lance Franklin.

Perhaps aside from Stephen Dank, no name in football has bottled up more anxiety for Bombers supporters, especially those attending Hawthorn-Essendon games over the past seven years.

It seems, lately, two things happen in Hawks-Bombers matches more often than not. The Hawks win - they have won the past four matches by an average of nearly 10 goals, and claimed 10 the past 13 encounters. And Buddy kicks lots of goals - he has booted 50 in 10 matches.

The man wearing No. 23 always seems to come up big against the team rated as his favourite to play against, kicking five bags of five goals or more against the Bombers over his career, including two best-on-ground performances of nine goals.

They are statistics brought up before every Bombers-Hawks game because, plainly, it is legitimate to do so.

Franklin has kept going out there and backing it up – and there was no better example than last year when the star forward awoke from a mid-season slumber and exploded with a season-high eight goals that started a dramatic fall from grace for James Hird’s team.

That Friday night at Etihad Stadium in late-June was actually a top-of-the-table clash, but the emotionally sapped Bombers were fighting out of their weight division, went down by 56 points and lost four of their final five matches.

However, this year is different. Should Franklin terrorise Essendon again, he will be making Sydney significantly harder for the Bombers to beat, not Hawthorn, and not this Friday night at Etihad Stadium.

Thompson admitted the challenge of upstaging the reigning premier was difficult, but said the absence of Franklin could provide a mental advantage for his defence.

"I think a few people used to have nightmares when they lined up against Buddy when he played Essendon, because he always kicked goals," he said at training on Tuesday. "So already we go into the game with a better mindset, so that's an advantage for us.”

The already fierce rivalry between the two clubs was stoked during the pre-season when comments made by Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson about suspended Bombers coach James Hird blew up in the media.

Clarkson was unapologetic for saying the Essendon supplements scandal had “ambushed” the game in a year the Hawks won the flag, and that Hird’s 12-month suspension for his role in the drugs drama was an example of why the league’s coaching ranks needed to be reformed.

The comments brought a strong response from Essendon chairman Paul Little, which led Clarkson to predict “the boxing gloves are going to be on” when the teams meet in round two.

However, Thompson played down that aspect of the match-up. "We don't want to start a big fight,” he said. “There's a lot of history there, good history. Supporters from both clubs come and like watching these two teams play.

"As far as I'm concerned, bring that on! That's why you play football - to put yourself under pressure in those critical moments and come through."

Small forward Jason Winderlich, racked with soft-tissue injuries in the past, has recovered from another hamstring problem that arose during the pre-season and is available to play. But Thompson cautioned a decision on the 29-year-old would be based on a plan to get him through at least 18 games this season.

Running defender Courtenay Dempsey impressed at VFL level at the weekend, but is still not in the frame, coming off an interrupted pre-season.

Paul Chapman, though, will play after pulling up well from his game-breaking four-goal performance against North Melbourne in round one.

The Hawks will welcome back Cyril Rioli from suspension for his first game and, crucially, key tall Josh Gibson will lead the defence in place of Lake after he was cleared by the match review panel on Monday.

This story A Buddy big relief for Bombers first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.