COVID set to take shine off Franklin’s 1000th goal celebrations

Lance Franklin’s 1000th goal is unlikely to be marked by the pomp befitting one of the grandest achievements the game has seen – and possibly the last of its kind – should he get there this year.

After a weekend which saw AFL legends Alastair Clarkson, Shaun Burgoyne and Eddie Betts bid farewell to empty stadiums, another magical moment threatens to be marred by COVID-19.

If not for the health crisis that has gripped NSW and Victoria, a near full house could have been on hand at the SCG for an all-Sydney elimination final to count down the eight goals the superstar forward needs to become the sixth player in VFL/AFL history to reach four figures.

Instead, the Swans and Giants will square off in front of a few thousand neutral supporters in Launceston on Saturday afternoon. And health protocols will likely prohibit them from streaming onto the arena as fans did in the 1990s when Tony Lockett, Jason Dunstall and Gary Ablett joined the 1000-goal club, or in 1999 when Lockett booted his record-breaking 1300th, at the SCG.

Similar restrictions await in week two of the finals should the Swans win through to play the loser of Geelong and Port Adelaide.

The silver lining of an early finals exit would be the chance for Franklin to reach the landmark next year when circumstances hopefully allow mass crowds to return in all states.

Lance Franklin is back in the Swans’ side for the final round of the home and away season.Credit:Getty Images

“Tasmania has demonstrated on multiple occasions that it can host AFL matches in a COVID-safe way, and these elimination finals will proceed under strict COVID-safe conditions, with important safeguards in place including capped crowds and masks to be worn,” Tasmania Premier Peter Gutwein said in a statement on Sunday night.

The clubs are yet to receive final travel plans, but club sources are anticipating a fly in and fly out arrangement on the day of the game.

The Swans are not expecting Franklin’s wife Jesinta and their two children Tullulah and Rocky to be allowed at the venue, though Lance senior could make the trip to Tasmania given Western Australia’s border arrangement with that state.

Families of Swans and Giants players have not been attending games in Melbourne. Exceptions were also not granted Burgoyne, Clarkson and Betts, while Travis Boak’s mother also missed her son’s 300th game this month despite a left-field plan for her to be part of a radio commentary team.

It is unclear as yet how the AFL will honour Franklin’s milestone, having been preoccupied with COVID-related fixturing dramas. Ditto the Swans, who have their eyes on the big prize of a sixth premiership cup over an individual feat, albeit one of great historical significance.

The Swans’ major issues this week centre on the availability of midfield bulls Josh Kennedy and Callum Mills, who are both under injury clouds.

Mills pulled up sore on Sunday after being subbed out with Achilles tendonitis. The star on-baller collected 18 possessions and a goal but could not warm up sufficiently after half-time to play on.

The injury has bothered him all season but worsened during two weeks of isolation last month in Queensland when he was unable to train properly. Mills is said to be confident of recovering in time for the first week of finals though the club will be wary of exposing him to the risk of further injury.

Kennedy, nursing a hamstring problem, ran on Saturday and remains in doubt.

The Giants also have big calls to make with senior players after qualifying for the finals with their win over Carlton.

Skipper Stephen Coniglio and former captain Phil Davis stepped up their push for a recall on Sunday, getting through a reserves scratch match against Essendon.

Coniglio, who played the closing stages of the game against the Blues as a medi-sub, suffered a setback three weeks ago to the toe he had reconstructed earlier in the year but appears to be winning his injury battle.

“He’s turned a corner,” Giants coach Leon Cameron said on the weekend. “If he’s right, he’s right, and we’ll definitely take him for finals footy.”

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