The Sydney Swans are hopeful of having Lance Franklin back on deck for their AFL season opener against Collingwood after the superstar forward made a very public return to training on Tuesday.
Franklin had to cut a path through a posse of camera crews and reporters to join teammates for day one of Sydney’s pre-season at the club’s SCG practice ground after sensationally sitting out this year’s finals series while battling a mental health issue.
Coach John Longmire said it was a significant step forward for the 28-year-old after three months dealing with his inner demons.
“It’s just a good sign that he’s back here and where he wants to be,” Longmire said.
“Ultimately he feels really comfortable training and playing. And like any player, that’s what they do. Football’s critical and we understand the importance of it.”
While Franklin will continue receiving professional treatment, Longmire says it’s otherwise business as usual for the dual premiership winner.
Barring any further setbacks, the Swans expect their $10-million man to line up against the Magpies at ANZ Stadium on March 24.
“As we sit here at the moment we haven’t got any player ruled out for round one,” Longmire said.
“But it is only the first of December so there is a long way to go but we expect all of our players to be ready for round one.
“We know that over the course of the pre-season that various challenges happen, injuries or whatever, but we expect Lance to be available at this point.”
Longmire commended Franklin for speaking out about his troubles and acknowledged the ordeal would have taken a toll on the 28-year-old.
“It’s not something that just goes away because you turn up to training. It’s something he’ll keep working on as well,” he said.
“I think most people would recognise it’s been a challenge for him. It’s not an easy thing to do, to come out publicly first and foremost.
“I hope it really helps his career but, almost more importantly than that, helps him as a person. I think that’s the most important thing to come out of it.
“Football’s critical and we understand the importance of it in supporters’ eyes and coaches’ eyes.
“We understand the win-loss record more than anyone but you need to make sure you’re right as a person first and foremost and that’s a critical component, to make sure you’re feeling good about it.
“There’s no point a coach standing out the front talking about game plans and team rules if you’re not quite right or you don’t feel right.”
Longmire said Franklin was returning to training on the advice of specialists who believe playing again is vital to his long-term recovery.
“That’s what they play footy for,” the coach said.
“They thrive in that camaraderie of the playing group, they thrive on the spirit of battle on the football ground, they thrive on trying to get better as players.
“Lance is no different, even though he’s got a higher profile than any other player on our list in regards to that.
“Today’s the first step in that and he’s ready to go in what we hope is a really strong pre-season.”