In Brisbane’s first preliminary final since 2004, let’s look at how they got here and how they’ll win.
I don’t know how deep the AFL got involved after the “go-home five”, but the club’s spine of CEO Greg Swann, footy boss David Noble, coach Chris Fagan and now former captain Dayne Beams was a master stroke.
Swann has regularly billeted first round draft picks on their arrival to Brisbane, showing them hospitality, generosity and leadership. Nobes is always mentioned in the same sentence as Fagan by all the team leaders, everytime they’re interviewed. Beams was fundamental in changing the culture of the team from a bunch of ratbags into genuine, caring young men.
As for Fagan; He has endeared himself to his squad, staff, supporters, the AFL community and the public in general for his truly genuine nature and empathetic outlook. He wants everyone involved and appreciated.
The football department has delivered on two fronts: recruiting talent that wants to play together and delivering a medical programme that keeps everyone fit and healthy.
As for the playing group, the spine of Harris Andrews, Oscar McInerney and Eric Hipwood are all 200cm-and-over athletes who run all day, leap into orbit and are still yet to reach their prime. Recruiting Hugh McCluggage and Jarrod Berry together was a generationally defining decision as it not only stopped the rot but identified a new philosophy on recruiting that has solidified the core young group.
The true turning point for the Lions though came from a simple phone call Fages made one afternoon to his mate Luke Hodge.
Long were the discussions on The Roar about the viability of hiring a has-been to take the spot of the likes of Alex Witherden. His involvement at the footy club turned out to be the masterstroke for where we find ourselves today.
He was able to bring the playing list to the realisation that working together, holding each other accountable and believing in the game plan was the recipe for success. And they embraced it Hodge style; 110 per cent.
Just look at his pinky on TV.
The next question is; why are the lions a chance?
The brand they have built is perfect for finals. Richmond’s turnover game was completely nullified by the Lions pressure. So much so that in the qualifying final, Richmond reverted to a centre clearance style to beat the Saints because it has been the go to plan to win flags for decades.
The Lions lack of a genuine go-to goal kicker has resulted in a complete lack of predictability for their opponents. They score from the half back line, the midfield, the ruck and any stoppage in the forward half. The Lions’ forwards are better at spoiling and tackling than they are at kicking straight but they are elite at keeping it inside 50 and lead the comp for shots on goal. Accuracy has been an achilles heel until the finals which bodes well.
So how do they win it?
The win over Richmond provided a blueprint; kick an early goal to build the confidence, tackle like men possessed and have the belief that no matter how well the opposition is playing that even they will succumb to relentless pressure.
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The interesting thing about the Lions squad is the plethora of role players. I would only put Harris Andrews and Lachie Neale in the elite category. Jarrod Lyons, McCluggage, Charlie Cameron, Zorko, Grant Birchall and Daniel Rich round out the A-graders. The rest are the corners of the jigsaw puzzle.
Mitch Robinson brings the biff, Darcy Gardiner brings the blanket. Berry brings the legs, the Big O brings the hands and Cam Rayner brings the palm. Dan McStay should be on the national volleyball team because no one in the comp spikes the ball better than him: he drops marks and misses goals from 20M but watch how many crumbs he gives.
Their game plan is simple: the mids pressure until they get a clearance and push it deep forward to a contest that either scores, generates a stoppage or puts the opponents disposal under enormous pressure. Charlie, Rayner and Hipwood are fast, McStay, Linc McCarthy and co are relentless.
Oscar and Andrews are set up perfectly to intercept rebound 50s while Rich and Birchall are pin point surgeons at delivering straight back in. Berry, McCluggage and Robbo run both ways all day making sure no gap is left uncontested and the rest fill in the gaps. Zac Bailey has dash, Ryan Lester clunks marks and Brandon Starzevich goes at full steam non-stop.
The Lions will win it all if they stick to their game plan and believe in themselves as all the pieces are finally in place, especially the chance to do it all at The Gabba.