Twin peaks: Jarryd Roughead celebrates a goal with Lance Franklin during the Hawks' qualifying final against Collingwood
HAWTHORN coach Alastair Clarkson repeated it last year until he was blue in the face, even as the wins mounted with his best player sitting in the grandstand.
"I'd rather have Franklin in the side than out of it," he would say after pretty much every match of a six-week period in which the Hawks won five of six matches.
That period, from rounds 16 to 21, saw the Hawks play some breathtaking football and it was during this period that they emerged from a pack of five contending teams to become the outright premiership favourite.
Scoreboard operators had their fingers at the ready during that period as the Hawks averaged 21 goals a game.
Among their bounties were scores of 21.12 against Collingwood (a 47-point win) and 27.18 against Essendon (for a 94-point winning margin).
The Hawks also put 24 goals past Port Adelaide at the often difficult to score at Aurora Stadium.
The only loss in that time came against Geelong (of course) but only courtesy of a Tom Hawkins' goal after the final siren.
Even then, the Hawks managed to kick a healthy 17.14.
Their average winning margin in that time was 58 points.
When Hawthorn fell agonisingly short of making the Grand Final in 2011, Clarkson said an immediate goal was to reduce the club's reliance on Franklin to kick a winning score.
He kicked 82 goals for the Hawks from 22 games in 2011, but the statistic Clarkson wanted to change was that 40 per cent of the time the Hawks went inside 50 that year, they kicked the ball towards Franklin.
According to Champion Data he was the most 'kicked to' key forward in the competition for the year.
In 2012, Hawthorn started to become less predictable. They looked for Franklin 219 times inside 50, still twice more than the next target, Jarryd Roughead, who was sought out 104 times.
But Franklin's figure represented only 30 per cent of Hawthorn's inside entries as players such as Jack Gunston, Luke Breust, David Hale and Jordan Lewis came into the scoring mix.
For the record, Richmond's Jack Riewoldt (40 per cent) replaced Franklin in 2012 as the most 'kicked to' forward in the competition.
Without Franklin, the Hawks were far less predictable, with Gunston, Roughead, Bruest and Lewis all receiving about the same amount of ball inside 50.
Without Franklin, Hawthorn played a smaller, but no less mobile forward line.
Hawthorn averaged two goals a game more in 2012 than the season before, but just 16 goals a game with Franklin in the side, compared to the aforementioned 21 without him.
All of which begs the question of whether Hawthorn, the team (as opposed to the club for which he is irreplaceable in terms of the membership, merchandise and sponsorship dollars he attracts), would be better off without him.
Six weeks worth of brilliant football last year starts to mount a reasonable case that the Hawks are a most competitive unit when he doesn't play.
In some ways, Clarkson constructs a more orthodox forward line in Franklin's absence, with Roughead or the resting ruckman David Hale playing out of the square, Gunston as the second marking forward, with the ravenous Bruest, Cyril Rioli and Lewis chipping at their feet in or around the 50-metre arc.
In 2012 Hawthorn had an almost unheard of five players – Franklin (69), Breust (45), Roughead (41), Rioli (39) and Gunston (39) – who kicked more than 30 goals. Lewis, who kicked 27, came awfully close as well.
That's the sort of collective output of a team firmly in premiership contention, although as last year's preliminary and Grand Finals demonstrated, the tight and congested nature of finals football can bring even the best forward lines to heel.
Hawthorn kicked 13 goals in the preliminary final and just 11 in the Grand Final. Franklin booted three goals in both games.
Looking back to the start of Franklin's career at Hawthorn - since his debut in the opening round of 2005 (all scrawny, wearing No.38) - they have won 57 per cent of their matches.
Take Franklin out of the side and that figure jumps to 63 per cent – 17 wins from 27 matches.
So what do we think? Franklin's sheer brilliance and the match-up nightmares he causes opposition sides are worth a few goals each week, but Hawthorn should not be fearful of life without him.
With the extra early draft pick the Hawks would likely receive as compensation for losing him, he could be replaced, obviously not by someone as freakish, but adequately enough by a forward who can play a bit and who shares a penchant with so many at Hawthorn - which is kicking lots of goals.
You can follow AFL media senior writer Ashley Browne on Twitter @afl_hashbrowne