Season preview: Brisbane Lions
How times have changed. Then assistant coach Justin Leppitsch has taken the reins at Brisbane.
Another team that will enter this season with a new coach is the Brisbane Lions.
Three-time premiership defender Justin Leppitsch returns to the club as they try to move on from the ill-fated Michael Voss era, which included, among others, only one finals appearance, the controversial recruitment of Brendan Fevola, drops in memberships and the loss of millions of dollars on the finance front.
He will have a massive task trying to turn the club’s fortunes around, with Jonathan Brown and Ashley McGrath the only remaining players from any of the club’s 2001, 2002 and 2003 flags.
However, there is a good influx of new players, and it’s hoped that their experience at other clubs will help the Lions return to the finals for the first time since 2009.
Let’s now take a look at the Brisbane Lions’ chances for season 2014.
Last season: 12th
Most recent premiership: 2003
Notable arrivals: Trent West (Geelong), Luke McGuane (Richmond), Jackson Paine (Collingwood)
Notable departures: Patrick Karnezis (Collingwood), Elliot Yeo (West Coast), Jared Polec (Port Adelaide), Sam Docherty (Carlton), Billy Longer (St Kilda), Simon Black (retired)
Leading goalkicker: Jonathan Brown (28)
Best-and-fairest: Joel Patfull
Looking at the departure lounge, it’s pretty much understandable that a few of the players not only suffered under the coaching of Michael Voss, but were also homesick and keen to return home.
It’s not just those players that have been lost, club legend Simon Black also announced his retirement at the end of last season, leaving Jonathan Brown and Ashley McGrath as the only original premiership players still at the club today.
But in all the doom and gloom, there are a few notable arrivals headed by none other than former Geelong ruckman Trent West, who will be expected to provide support in the ruck with Matthew Leuenberger.
Luke McGuane returns to his home state after being delisted by Richmond, where he played over 100 games, and in doing so follows Leppitsch, who was an assistant coach at the Tigers between 2010 and 2013.
A key defender, he is expected to help out injury-prone Matt Maguire, who managed only eleven appearances last season, in the backline.
From the senior core, fans will be hoping for an injury-free run from last year’s leading goalkicker Jonathan Brown, who only managed to kick 28 goals last year. At age 32, and given his history of recent injuries, this is very likely to be his final year.
Daniel Rich and Tom Rockliff will also look to have strong seasons, as will sole captain Jed Adcock, as the Lions set about becoming a force in the AFL once again.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the highlights that Lions fans can expect this coming season:
Matches to watch in 2014
1. Brisbane Lions versus Hawthorn, Round 1
Justin Leppitsch will be in for a horror initiation as head coach, as his Lions head down to Launceston to take on the reigning premiers, Hawthorn, in Round 1.
The Hawks will unofficially unfurl their premiership flag in front of their Tasmanian-based supporters, but if there’s one team that can spoil the celebrations, it’s the Brisbane Lions.
Not only that, the Lions can also draw from their performance against the Hawks in 2009, when they launched a stunning second half to keep the Hawks to only one goal and win by 42 points.
On that occasion, the Hawks were also defending premiers, but suffered a poor season which ultimately led to them missing the finals that year. That would, however, mark the last time the Lions would beat the Hawks.
Can the 2014 Lions emulate their 2009 counterparts and repeat the dose again, or will the Hawks have learnt their lesson?
The horror start does not end there, as the Lions are at home to the Cats the following round.
2. The QClash, Rounds 3 and 18
As is customary in the AFL, the local derby between the Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast Suns will be worth attending this year, as both teams look to make their mark this year.
The Lions have struggled in the aftermath of their hat-trick of premierships but with a new coach things appear to be on the up again (or are they?), while the Suns have had three years in the AFL and will look to become a serious finals contender this year.
There have been six QClashes to date and while the Lions have won the last five, some of them by narrow margins, it was the Gold Coast Suns which claimed the inaugural victory in Round 7, 2011.
A lot of the Lions’ homework will be on trying to shut down last year’s Brownlow Medallist, Gary Ablett, as well as their crop of rising stars headed by last year’s Rising Star, Jaeger O’Meara.
But will 2014 be the year the Lions continue their dominance against the Suns, or will their younger cousins finally break through again?
3. Brisbane Lions versus Port Adelaide, Round 4
Here presents a good chance for the Brisbane Lions to settle a decade-long score against the team that denied them a record-equalling fourth consecutive flag in 2004.
The Lions entered the 2004 grand final confident that it could land the fourth consecutive flag which would have levelled them with the class of Collingwood that triumphed four times between 1927 and 1930 inclusive.
However, a fired-up Port Adelaide, in their first grand final after years of misfiring in past finals series, took advantage of the Lions’ tiredness (the Power played a thrilling preliminary final against St Kilda on the Friday night, while the Lions had to play a home-away-from-home preliminary final against Geelong on the Saturday night) to romp home by 40 points and actually do the Pies a favour by keeping the four-in-a-row record in black-and-white hands.
A decade on, and with almost different playing lists, the new-look Power and Lions sides will reprise that classic battle at Adelaide Oval in Round 4 of this season.
4. Brisbane Lions versus St Kilda, Round 6
Last year it was the Sydney Swans and St Kilda who shared the honour of being the first teams to play a premiership match on New Zealand soil.
This year, it’ll be the Brisbane Lions’ turn as they take on the Saints on ANZAC Night at Westpac Stadium in Wellington, in a fixture that has been locked in for the next few years as the immediate follow-on from the traditional ANZAC Day MCG fixture between Collingwood and Essendon.
Despite the on-field struggles the club has endured since 2004, the Lions have traditionally been part of many huge fixtures in the AFL, including Easter Thursday, which the Lions will be part of again this season when it takes on Richmond in the preceding round before their trip across the ditch.
But this will without a doubt be their biggest ever fixture as they take up the honour of playing on the biggest day on the AFL calendar outside of the grand final, and on the most important day in Australia outside Australia Day.
How will the new-look Lions handle the occasion of playing in such a unique and recently introduced fixture? Mind you, they’ll be playing another team that is expected to struggle this season in St Kilda, so a victory appears likely.
With only Jonathan Brown and Ashley McGrath remaining as the only premiership players from any of its 2001, 2002 or 2003 squads, it will not be long before neither of them remain.
But this year is all about the future and not about the past, as the Lions welcome a new influx of players to make up for the homesick, some of which have returned home to Victoria, and Simon Black, a club legend who will sorely be missed.
The club has not finished any higher than 12th since 2009 and the club will be in for a tough first few years under new coach Justin Leppitsch, because miracles almost never happen instantly, unless you’re Chris Scott or John Longmire, two men who took their respective sides to the 2011 and 2012 flags in their first and second years.