Have the Lions turned the corner?
Brisbane Lions - 2013 season (AFL Media)
It’s been a long time between drinks for Brisbane fans. While not quite the arduous task of supporting perennial cellar dwellers like Melbourne, sticking by the once mighty Lions hasn’t always been easy.
And it’s not as if the club has been run very badly in recent times, or financial hardships have struck.
After the great successes at the turn of the millennium, a mixture of bad luck and a lack of promising youth confined Brisbane to the bottom half of the table.
After the host of retirements by players like Nigel Lappin and Michael Voss, there were no young leaders or stars to take over. While the team often showed glimpses of promise, only one finals appearance since 2005 tells its own story.
Despite all of this, the fans stuck with the Lions, with memberships since ’05 averaging about 24,000. And it seems that there may finally be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Of course, there have been plenty of false dawns before. The Lions were heralding a new era with their semi-final finish in 2009, only to finish 13th, 15th, and 13th in the next three seasons.
This time there is a key difference: youth and stability.
The premiership Lions had stability and fluidity, but were getting older and more susceptible to injuries.
The Lions after that were young, but were rushed into the main team before their time. The unprecedented five co-captains in 2007 showed a lack of leadership and experience at the club.
Now, premiership veterans Jonathan Brown and Simon Black remain to lead and guide the team, with young leaders like Daniel Rich and Tom Rockliff.
While not yet at their peak, these players have a few years under their belt, and are hungry for success. Other new faces in Josh Green, Pearce Hanley, and Elliot Yeo show much promise.
There is a growing sense around the club and its fans that something good is on the horizon. The squad is still being fine-tuned and refined, as are all aspects of the club, and there are no suggestions that this is a premiership year.
But towards the back end of last year, and throughout their undefeated NAB cup campaign this year, the Lions have been consistent. Not always consistent winners, but consistently competitive and spirited: not something that could be said about the Lions for the last few years.
NAB cup success does not necessarily equate to premiership success, nor does a promising looking team.
But as those words are on every fan’s lips at the start of round one, Brisbane fans can say much more confidently this year, “This could be our year!”