The Brisbane Lions are finally on the road back to competence

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    This is the scene: Stefan Martin, his body broad, his eyes mean and his biceps breathing, starts his run-up inside the centre circle.

    Tom Rockliff and the two Daynes, Beams and Zorko, fix their eyes skyward and edge closer to read their ruckman’s tap, and for the first time in a long time, Brisbane Lions fans have the sense that things just might not end horribly.

    These four players are the foundation of what is becoming a bearable present for the Lions. They represent an elite starting midfield rotation, and one that can make the game’s best midfields look like, well, the rest of the Brisbane Lions.

    Beams is a delight, a player who glides more than he runs, a Lion skimming across the surface. Zorko is an explosion, someone who plays with damaging force, but also has the skill and calmness of mind for polished finishes.

    Martin is the best sort of monster, and Rockliff, after spending so long as his team’s only truly relevant player, can now revel in being third on the depth chart of stars.

    Earlier in the season, the Lions were good for one quarter each game. They were North Melbourne’s first half against St Kilda on agonising repeat, clueless as to any direction, and impressive in how emphatically bad they made going nowhere look.

    The Lions are finally playing with purpose. In the past fortnight, they’ve looked like a real team, one with structure, enduring effort, and, most remarkably, a bit of poise.

    They bludgeoned a tired Dockers team into submission, dominating contested ball and clearances, and ruthlessly translating that advantage into a suffocating grip on forward territory. They transitioned the ball at pace, spread from the contest with zeal and resolve, and when the Dockers came at them in the second quarter, they weathered the storm, absorbed the pressure, and burned them on the counter-attack.

    Dayne Zorko of the Brisbane Lions AFL

    (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

    Again, against Port Adelaide they took their opponent’s best hit and weren’t anything more than dazed. Conceding the game’s first three goals in intimidating surroundings might have broken previous iterations of the Lions, but this side stood up and halfway through the fourth quarter they were, if only notionally, still in the game.

    They had a plan against Port to be patient with the ball and take the air out of their opponents by accumulating uncontested marks. They chipped and they chipped, and then they exposed Port on switches, with Beams and Zorko generally being the ones brilliant enough to make the decisive, incisive play to break the Port Adelaide zone.

    Of course, they lost, because endeavour can only go so far against such a talent deficit. But it was a promising loss, a ten-goal underdog never looking like losing by ten goals.

    The future was keenly on display, with Eric Hipwood, the team’s most promising prospect, realising some of his magnificent potential. Hipwood’s pace for his size is devastating, his leaping ability supreme, and his goal sense tingles. When he sees space, his mind cannily narrows. He kicks the ball the way it should be kicked, a pristine motion of perfect balance and an immaculate ball-drop. He is going to be special.

    For the first time in years, with multiple All-Australian candidates in the team, young talent being re-signed, and finally a coach who isn’t a favourite son, you get the sense that Hipwood’s team could be special one day too.

    Even if that day might be five years from now, at least you feel that the years in getting there mightn’t be so painful anymore.

    Jay Croucher
    Jay Croucher

    From MSG in New York to the MCG in Melbourne, Jay has spent his adult life travelling the world, indulging in sport and approaching it from the angle of history and pop culture. Follow him on Twitter @CroucherJD

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