Brisbane’s meteoric rise to second spot on the ladder at the end of the home-and-away season has seen Chris Fagan named the AFL Coaches Association’s senior coach of the year.
As a disastrous 2015 lurches to a close, rumblings about player disharmony, unhappiness and homesickness are once again threatening to tear the Brisbane Lions list apart.
James Aish is definitely on the way out. It’s been a tough year for the youngster with injury and form hampering his ability to consistently reach the sky high potential he possessed when drafted two years ago.
Jack Redden has announced this week that he wants to be traded, with reports surfacing that he is unhappy with head coach Justin Leppitsch.
Stefan Martin wants to go home to Victoria, Dayne Zorko could seemingly be pried away for the right offer, and Jed Adcock and Matthew Leuenberger have been told they can seek other opportunities.
So as this once proud club seemingly heads for a mass player exodus similar to 2013, what is going wrong north of the border?
Yes, the team is poor. Their record in 2015 speaks for itself – three wins, 18 losses and a pathetic percentage of 65.3. But with question marks hanging over half a dozen of their best and brightest players for the 2016 season, how can they stop the rot?
For me, there are two major issues: an under resourced player wellbeing program, and a distinct lack of leadership.
The board has already taken steps to improve one of these aspects.
In great news for the club, welfare guru Craig Lambert and his wife Melissa seem likely to re-join the Lions and head up the player welfare program for the 2016 season. This is a significant move to try and quell the dissatisfaction existing among current players and potentially future draftees.
In an age when it has become increasingly easy to change clubs, people with the ability to make the footy environment more welcoming are worth their weight in gold. These people help you build a culture capable of empowering these youngsters and making them feel at home in a completely foreign environment.
But although this is a step in the right direction, there is plenty more to do.
My biggest issue lies with the coach and captain of the club, Justin Leppitsch and Tom Rockliff. In my opinion, they aren’t good leaders.
There are growing concerns about Leppitsch’s ability to connect with the playing group on a deeper, more personal level.
He is said to be tough, hard and confronting. This was seen earlier in the year where he was involved in a physical altercation with rookie Zac O’Brien, where he allegedly pinned him against the wall of the change room during a reserves game.
That’s old school coaching. Prehistoric coaching. Stupid and insensitive coaching.
Now both parties apologised for their role in the fracas. And it was a one-off. But no doubt some damage was done to Leppitsch’s standing around the club.
Leppitsch is hard–nosed, with a waft of arrogance, which can ruffle some feathers. So I guess if there was a suitable foil around the club for his up-front style of coaching and leadership, it might be more tolerable.
But there isn’t. Lions captain Rockliff is the same kind of man.
His leadership style is brazen and in your face. He is confrontational, straight-shooting and offers tough love. He is blue-collar, and this helped him earn the respect of some of his peers, but not all of them.
Does Rockliff have the ability to be a calming, supportive influence on a distressed and unhappy youngster? Or does he dress him down on social media when he expresses some dissatisfaction with the club’s direction?
Rockliff’s actions have caused some disillusionment among his peers. But Leppitsch has openly backed him in saying “I don’t want a wallflower captain”. What sort of message does that send the playing group?
And then he compared his leadership style to Luke Hodge. Give me a break.
Below is a list of Brisbane Lions draftees who have left, or are likely to leave the club this year:
2013: Pick 7 – James Aish*
2011: Picks 8, 12 and 30 – Billy Longer, Sam Docherty and Elliot Yeo
2010: Picks 5 and 25 – Jared Polec and Patrick Karnezis
2008: Pick 25 – Jack Redden*
2007: Pick 8 – Lachie Henderson
2006: Pick 4 – Matthew Leuenberger*
2005: Pick 9 – Mitch Clark
*likely to leave the Lions
This tells the story. An abundance of high-end draft talent lost to other clubs.
The Brisbane Lions footy club lacks soul, the culture is rotting. They need to develop a program where players not only want to come to the club, but want to stay.
Talented duo Daniel Rich and Sam Mayes are off contract at the end of next year as well, so watch this space.