Sydney defender Ted Richards has hailed the focus of teammates Lance Franklin and Adam Goodes in handling the firestorms that have surrounded them this AFL season.
The two indigenous stars are set to be key players in Saturday’s qualifying final against Fremantle, with Franklin scheduled to return from knee soreness which kept him out of last week’s game against Richmond.
He has rallied from a slow start to the season and a car accident which attracted plenty of unflattering headlines.
However, Franklin has since started to deliver in the first year of his nine-season contract, winning the Coleman Medal and garnering plenty of positive headlines.
“He copped it at the start of the year externally,” Richards said of Franklin.
“There were reports that were just so way off the mark, it was incredibly hard for him.
“But his ability to focus in on what’s important has just been phenomenal, the year he’s been able to have.”
While Franklin is a noted big game player, Richards suggested even Buddy would find it hard to improve on his recent high level.
“I’d love to say that, but to be fair to him he’s won the Coleman, he’s probably going to be All Australian,” Richards said.
“He’s at a fair level right now, so no pressure on him.”
Veteran Goodes, the club’s all-time appearance leader, found himself front and centre in the media glare this week over suggestions he dived in an incident during the Tigers game.
Australian of the Year Goodes has also had to deal with a couple of racist remarks made about him last year and two more instances this season.
“It seems like Goodesy’s name has been in the media a lot the last year or two, and he’s a bloody good bloke, a bloody good person,” Richards said.
“He’s able to just focus in on what’s important.
“It is a real strength of his, so I don’t think it’s going to distract him at all.”
Asked if he thought it necessary to defend Goodes, who has come under fire from Essendon great Matthew Lloyd and cricketing legend Shane Warne, Richards said: “I could, but I think he’ll just let his footy this week do the talking.”
Richards, who has played every game this season, is likely to renew his long-standing rivalry with veteran Fremantle forward Matthew Pavlich.
“He’s such a good player, because he is a key position forward that is unique in that it’s not uncommon for him to go into centre bounces,” Richards said.
Richards noted Fremantle’s greater offensive output of recent weeks, saying they were playing very attacking football.
He refused to blame the contentious ANZ Stadium surface for his well-publicised slip last weekend, which allowed Dustin Martin to kick the decisive goal.
“That was just poor footwork by me. I’d love to be able to blame the surface,” Richards said.
“But if I had my time again, I probably would have done things differently.”