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Former Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley has slammed the AFL world over the intense scrutiny surrounding number one draft pick Jason Horne-Francis' rookie season.
Amid a woeful season for North Melbourne, Kangaroos fans have been hoping the highly prized pick would prove to at least be a bright spot for them on the field - but early struggles have given way to an avalance of criticism.
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Horne-Francis was criticised earlier this season for travelling home to Adelaide for the weekend without informing the club - an error dismissed as simply being an honest mistake.
However as North's miserable season has rolled on it appears some frustration has begun creeping in for the 18-year-old.
He was suspended for two games for striking GWS Giants rival Josh Kelly, while vision of him in a heated exchange with club captain Todd Goldstein also raised eyebrows.
Buckley however, felt like the amount of pressure being placed on Horne-Francis was far beyond what could reasonably be expected of him not only in his first AFL season, but for a North Melbourne club light on talent.
Buckley didn't point the finger at any one source of pressure - be that from the media, fans or even voices inside the club - instead suggesting it was an issue for the entire inudstry.
He said after attending this week's Hall of Fame function with his sons, he found himself questioning how many parents would want their children facing the kind of scrutiny Horne-Francis has.
— AFL Nation (@AFLNation) June 15, 2022
“He is an 18-year-old who is probably really struggling within himself. We’re seeing his behaviours that are coming out that are showing quite clearly that he is struggling in himself in the challenge that he is facing," Buckley said.
“It’s got worse and worse as the expectation has grown.
"These expectations weren’t his, they were placed on him externally and this is where sports media and social media becomes a big thing.
“He’s the No. 1 pick, he’s expected to be a certain player, he’s gone into a club that has struggled and he’s become the main story out of the North Melbourne Football Club.
“I had a thought last night, if I was the mother and the father, would I want my son to be in that situation? And the answer is no."
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Horne-Francis was banned after he made contact with Kelly after he had kicked the ball forward, resulting in a down-field free kick.
The incident sparked a melee in an otherwise fairly tame affair at Marvel Stadium.
"I think there's some frustration from all of our guys," Kangaroos coach David Noble said.
"(Horne-Francis) is a young guy learning the caper, he's got high standards and high expectations, so there's some frustration out there, no doubt.
"But I don't think it's just limited to him."
The midfielder missed North's round nine defeat to Port Adelaide with hamstring tightness.
It was later revealed Horne-Francis had returned home to Adelaide for Mother's Day, without the club's knowledge, following an extended break after the round eight smashing against Fremantle.
"He didn't get into trouble, he wasn't suspended," Noble later said.
"We sat down with him and said there's protocols and what happens if he's drug tested and if they don't know his whereabouts, then the club actually gets fined."
Horne-Francis, through his manager, has opted to put contract talks on hold with North until the end of the season.
The Kangaroos, who sit 17th after losing 11-straight matches, could also be without defender Lachie Young against the Crows after he was charged with rough conduct on GWS veteran Matt de Boer.
Giants players Jake Stein and Harry Himmelberg were offered fines for separate last-quarter incidents against North.
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