The stories from his years at Hawthorn have gone down in club folklore, perhaps none more so than a preseason session at Coffs Harbour back in the early days. There the club’s elite performance manager Andrew “Jack” Russell got the team to do a session of 150m repeats. Hard yakka in the hot sun. Franklin remembers the day well. Looking over at his idol, Shane Crawford, he decided then and there that whatever happened he would finish ahead of the veteran superstar.
“You’ve got some of the greats of the game there and I remember looking at Crawf and just trying to beat him,” Franklin recalls. He didn’t just beat Crawford that day. He beat everyone, running an astonishing 22 150s at a head-shaking average of 18 seconds (for reference, former Olympic sprinter Matt Shirvington’s fastest ever 150 was a touch under 15 secs).
“The guys took it in turns to challenge him on different reps but he won every single one,” confirms Russell. Incredibly, his fastest rep – a blistering 17 seconds – was his last one.
“I’m a very competitive person and I hate losing,” says Franklin. “That’s how I’ve managed to get the most out of myself.”
The story is revealing and not just for the eye-popping times involved. So mesmerising are Franklin’s skills with footy in hand – the goals from 60m off one step, dribbles along the ground from tight in the pocket – you forget just how freakish an athlete he is and how hard he’s had to work to reach the top.
“That’s the thing, everyone looks at players and thinks they’ve got a lot of skill but behind the scenes I train as hard as I can,” says Franklin. “A lot of the things I do on the field, they’re not just flukes. There are a lot of hours on the training track that go into them.”
Former Geelong captain and Channel 7 commentator Cameron Ling puts it this way. “Nobody gets as good as he is just by pure natural talent,” says Ling, whose team enjoyed one of the great rivalries with Franklin’s Hawks. “You might play 10 good games or even one good season but you don’t do it year after year, in big games, finals, premierships, with all the focus on you, the best defenders on you every time, other opposing players looking to help out on you, you don’t do it for that long without being unbelievably hardworking and utterly professional off the field.”
The take-home: you may not have been blessed with Franklin’s physical gifts, but you can tap into your competitive instincts and take pride in your performance every single time you train, every single rep.
The difference, of course, is that as a battler your efforts probably won’t be overshadowed by your dazzling skills. Your hard work will be recognised...
For the rest of the interview with Franklin, plus a sprint drill you can employ to build Franklin-like staying power, check out the October issue of Men's Health – our special 20th birthday issue! – on-sale Monday, Sept 4