Deciphering Chris Fagan’s Lions

Keagan Ryan Roar Pro

By Keagan Ryan, Keagan Ryan is a Roar Pro

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34 Have your say

    Only a lunatic would have traded a seat at Hawthorn’s dining table for Brisbane’s trough last year, but right now Chris Fagan is probably as happy as a pig in mud, for he doesn’t have to suffer the scrutiny currently being applied to his former club.

    That said, things aren’t especially rosy at the Gabba, particularly after a 52-point loss to Richmond.

    But while on the scoreboard it’s a familiar result for Brisbane, there are distinct changes from previous years.

    We actually have a defence
    Fagan’s first port of call was rectifying a defence that leaked worse than Donald Trump’s White House administration. Last year, under Justin Leppitsch, the Lions conceded an average of 130.5 points per game – one of the worst returns in the competition’s history.

    A month into Fagan’s tenure and that figure has been reduced by more than 20 points (108.2). While it’s still on the high side, Fagan is steering Brisbane in the right direction. He has achieved this by demanding more defensive running from his midfielders and by keeping his charges motivated for longer.

    At times last year, players had clearly thrown in the towel. Fagan, at least, has got Brisbane staying competitive. Additionally, the Lions haven’t given up as many over-the-back goals this season – something of a staple under Leppitsch.

    Fagan’s Hawthorn influence hasn’t gone unnoticed, ramping up the focus on forward pressure at the Lions. To reinforce its importance to his game plan, Fagan has deployed Mitch Robinson as a full-time forward and given opportunities to Jake Barrett to harass opposition defenders.

    This has resulted in the Lions being ranked second in the AFL for tackles inside 50 (15.3 per game). The return of Allen Christensen in the coming weeks should only add to Brisbane’s ability to pressure the opposition.

    Smarter ball movement
    Under Leppitsch, the Lions had plan A for moving the ball down the field – move it quickly by hand and create an overlap. To be fair to the three-time premiership centre-half back, Brisbane can look brilliant when this comes off.

    The problem was, there was no other alternative when opposing teams shut down that run or set-up behind the ball. Brisbane tried playing possession football but they couldn’t actually advance the ball, so effectively they kept chipping it around until someone inevitably turned it over.

    Fagan’s Lions can switch the ball and they can work the ball down the field through a series of short kicks and lead-up marks. While disposal efficiency is down compared to last year (72 per cent v 70.5 per cent), the Lions are getting ten more uncontested possessions and 20 more disposals per game this year and they are more inclined to kick than handball.

    List depth
    Injuries haven’t helped, but in previous years the hidings haven’t been limited to the senior side. Brisbane’s NEAFL side has struggled but this year they’re undefeated, boasting as many as 20 listed players per game. Emphasising this new-found depth is the fact that three of last year’s off-season trade targets – Ryan Bastinac, Josh Walker and Jarrad Jansen – are running around in the twos.

    A winning NEAFL team is good for the club as it keeps morale up and means there’s competition for spots, which is healthy and should push the players to improve. Games will be earned, not gifted under Fagan.

    On-field leadership has been sorely lacking for Brisbane, and Leppitsch event noted it wasn’t a “Melbourne Cup field” to choose from.

    This year the leaders are standing tall, led by captain Dayne Beams and his vice, Tom Rockliff, who leads the AFL in clearances. Stefan Martin, Dayne Zorko, Mitch Robinson, Daniel Rich and Harris Andrews have also been consistent.

    There’s a long way to go for Brisbane in their climb back to relevancy but the coach is already stamping his mark on the team.

    With his dinner plan in mind, Chris Fagan’s setting the Lions’ table so the club can feast once again.

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    The Crowd Says (34)

    • Roar Guru

      April 20th 2017 @ 10:30am
      Paul D said | April 20th 2017 @ 10:30am | ! Report

      Good succinct analysis of the methodical way Fagan has gone about rebuilding the foundations of the club

      Two issues still need to be addressed – training facilities, which are still stone age & no ground has been broken yet on this so-called elite performance centre out near the airport. That needs to happen. The other is player retention – Schache in particular, but there are others as well. Long way still to go. The Dees have already shown they’re not that keen on the long roadtrip back to relevancy, and I am concerned that perhaps the Lions are going to struggle to make the distance as well. Teams say they’re tired of being awful and being flogged all the time but I worry that such entrenched mediocrity becomes habit forming.

      • April 20th 2017 @ 11:04am
        Keagan Ryan said | April 20th 2017 @ 11:04am | ! Report

        It’s a good point, Paul. Watching the Dees recently has made me realise how far Brisbane have to go – not only do we have to develop our young players and improve as a team, but we also need to learn how to win – which is something Melbourne are clearly struggling with at the moment, blowing two games against Geelong and Freo.

        Instilling those winning habits and attitudes is something Fagan is clearly conscious of, if his messaging to the fans and players is anything to go by.

        • Roar Guru

          April 20th 2017 @ 11:12am
          Paul D said | April 20th 2017 @ 11:12am | ! Report

          I think a big part of the issue is that teams trying to emerge from a long period of cellar dwelling struggle to develop young players. The seasoned players at the club have generally been flogged from pillar to post over preceding years – it doesn’t make for the best role models. Melbourne have had problems with this, Brisbane have had it, Gold Coast, Carlton, Port Adelaide…

          I think the only player Brisbane has brought through the ranks who’s a genuinely elite talent is Dayne Zorko. And I suspect that’s in spite of the environment, not because of it.

      • April 20th 2017 @ 11:53am
        George said | April 20th 2017 @ 11:53am | ! Report

        Yes, without new training facilities just forget retaining players. Was Springfield location the latest suggestion? Also drop in pitch at Gabba would be handy though I can’t see it happening. I remember Victorian teams complaining how sore they were after playing at Gabba. As a ruckman I would not want to play at Gabba.

        • Roar Guru

          April 20th 2017 @ 11:59am
          Paul D said | April 20th 2017 @ 11:59am | ! Report

          No, Springfield was back around 2013. The latest preferred destination is out near Brisbane Airport but no news on that since June 2016

          Fundamentally the club is too broke to organize funding itself and can’t get a loan from anyone due to its parlous financial position. They can’t get funding for a facility without more spectators and finance, they can’t get those without winning more games and they will struggle to win without funding for a facility

          Really is a death spiral at the moment, and comes back to Leigh Matthew’s comment “do you want a team in Brisbane or not”. Most of the debt on the Lions books is owed to the AFL and should be wiped as a matter of priority.

          Re: drop-in wicket I suspect that will not change for a while yet – I think that if Crossrail is built & the Gabba undergoes some sort of redevelopment, the drop-in might become more appealing so that the state government can get a bigger return on the stadium by scheduling more big events. Without a pitch square to protect they could just use the grass a lot more often and re-turf as & when necessary. But that’s a good 10 years off I reckon

          • April 20th 2017 @ 12:15pm
            George said | April 20th 2017 @ 12:15pm | ! Report

            Yes, really frustrating. I thought they dusted off Springfield solution after women success. Here is the link
            Drop in pitch works beautifully in Adelaide. Just 12 days turn over. I don’t get it. They could utilise Gabba so much more. Cricket people rules.

            • Roar Guru

              April 20th 2017 @ 12:24pm
              Paul D said | April 20th 2017 @ 12:24pm | ! Report

              Cheers for that George, I hadn’t seen that story. Interesting.

              I had thought perhaps access to the airport might be a sticking point – there are stations at the airport itself but I think people would balk at paying the $16 price to ride the airport portion of the rail line, and I doubt they’d be able to put a new station midway out to service the ground as the track itself is elevated a good 15m above the ground the whole length to sit above the wetlands.

              Throw in that point about the airport vetoing floodlights so close to the runway and they might as well kill it off. Which sounds like they have.

              I don’t have an issue with the Lions having a training base out at Springfield, particularly if they’ve been offered free rent as part of it. The talk that they would “lose” their identity stemmed from the fact that Sharpless was proposing that the club also play games out there at a yet-to-be-constructed Springfield stadium, which was just crap and deservedly shot down. For better or for worse we have to stay at the Gabba for actual AFL games. Play the pre-season out there though.

              Just build the damn facility somewhere in the greater Brisbane area – surely that is the priority, not haggling over which shire council it sits within.

              The drop-in won’t change while the Lions continue to treat Kevin Mitchell like a glorified lawnmower and make no attempt to ingratiate themselves with the powers-that-be. They got a salutary lesson from the Gabba over where they rank in the pecking order up here a few weeks ago in the lead up to the women’s grand final and they should take steps to ensure a humiliation like that isn’t repeated.

              • April 20th 2017 @ 12:47pm
                George said | April 20th 2017 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

                Agree, second class treatment at Gabba for AFL. Supposedly, women were not even allowed to step on the grass at Gabba to take promotion pictures.

          • Roar Guru

            April 20th 2017 @ 1:15pm
            JamesH said | April 20th 2017 @ 1:15pm | ! Report

            Paul, I find it mind-boggling that the AFL is throwing cash at expansion teams in NSW and QLD while allowing one of the existing teams in those states to suffer in silence. What is the point of getting GC airborne if its older brother is nose-diving?

            Look on the bright side tho – if everything crashes and burns, we’d probably let the Lions set up shop in Hobart 😉

            • Roar Guru

              April 20th 2017 @ 1:20pm
              Paul D said | April 20th 2017 @ 1:20pm | ! Report

              Typical Hobart, always looking for a handout from the more prosperous states 🙂

            • Roar Guru

              April 20th 2017 @ 7:22pm
              Penster said | April 20th 2017 @ 7:22pm | ! Report

              There’s an idea – call them the Fitzroy/Brisbane/Hobart Wilburys. Started in Fitzroy, fail, moved to Brisbane as the Bears, fail, reincarnated as the Lions ……. looking like a fail again. Ship em down to Hobart and see what happens, if that fails, try Darwin, NZ & China (sorry Kochie).

    • April 20th 2017 @ 2:09pm
      Birdman said | April 20th 2017 @ 2:09pm | ! Report

      Nah, we’ll just take the Suns’ licence.

      BTW Keagan, Christensen looks ‘gawn’ for the season so more bad news on the injury front for the Lions.

      • Roar Guru

        April 20th 2017 @ 2:14pm
        Paul D said | April 20th 2017 @ 2:14pm | ! Report

        Yeah I saw that. Was gutted for him – and us, he’s one of our better players when fit. It doesn’t have to be the end of the world though if it means Jake Barrett and Cedric Cox fill his spot between them. Plenty of upside with those two getting games

        • April 20th 2017 @ 2:47pm
          George said | April 20th 2017 @ 2:47pm | ! Report

          Plenty of talent on Lions list. Future looks good if they can keep them. But I have to say Lester and Bewick drive me nuts. I sure would not play them. Also wish they could improve delivery to forward line so Schade etc can do something with it. And please take the game on as they did 1QTR vs Suns.

          • Roar Guru

            April 20th 2017 @ 2:59pm
            DingoGray said | April 20th 2017 @ 2:59pm | ! Report

            I too find both Lester and Bewick the two most frustrating players. Nick Robertson is another this year that’s doing my head in.
            In relation to Bewick, I think he’s been pretty good this year. Lester, I just can’t see it.
            But he’s clearly loved by someone in Brisbane.

          • April 20th 2017 @ 3:03pm
            Keagan Ryan said | April 20th 2017 @ 3:03pm | ! Report

            The delivery I50 was appalling against Richmond – so frustrating to watch.

            Lester has actually been pretty solid this year. He’s contributing to our better phases of play and really doing the roles asked of him, which have been a variety of back, mid and forward. He’s never going to get 25+ touches but you can count on him, which is what we need. He also brings leadership qualities, evident but his elevation to the leadership group.

            Bewick I agree with you more, especially considering how well he played through JLT. After his preseason I backed him in for a really solid year. I think there are more pressing players on the chopping block (particularly McStay), but Bewick would want to find his feet soon.

          • Roar Guru

            April 20th 2017 @ 3:18pm
            Paul D said | April 20th 2017 @ 3:18pm | ! Report

            I think you mean Schache – if we could deliver a ball lace out to Schade on the Gold Coast I’d be calling in WADA

            Lester & Bewick are a necessary evil as mature aged stuffing to a kid heavy list – I call them the barometer of our success, because I’ll know we’re getting good again when they don’t get a game

            • April 21st 2017 @ 9:55am
              Stewie said | April 21st 2017 @ 9:55am | ! Report

              Even more so now Schade’s at Collingwood!

              • Roar Guru

                April 21st 2017 @ 10:25pm
                Paul D said | April 21st 2017 @ 10:25pm | ! Report

                Now that would be impressive. Hadn’t even noticed

      • April 20th 2017 @ 2:57pm
        Keagan Ryan said | April 20th 2017 @ 2:57pm | ! Report

        I wrote this before that news came to light. It’s a damn shame, because Bundy would’ve slotted into Fagan’s plans nicely.

    • Roar Guru

      April 20th 2017 @ 3:58pm
      SportsFanGC said | April 20th 2017 @ 3:58pm | ! Report

      It cannot be underestimated how big a difference having Elite Training and Administration Facilities is to an AFL Club.

      All 17 Clubs other than Brisbane have such a facility (or in the case of West Coast currently building their brand new $50M Centre to be opened in 2018) and it is a huge incentive to bring a player to your Club along with a big incentive to keep the players at your Club.

      You only have to look at the fantastic facility that has opened here on the Gold Coast at Carrara that the Suns now call home. The staff and players were so stoked to move in there and get to work and they suddenly joined all of the big Victorian, SA and WA Clubs operating from professional premises. They have re-signed all key players at the Club with the last to put pen to paper being Steven May (rumors that the CBA finalization is holding up this deal presently).

      Fremantle may just have moved into the best facility in the country at Cockburn regardless of which code is your preference.

      Brisbane have the added difficulty of retaining players in Queensland, which is a non-traditional AFL state and a city where the Brisbane Broncos rule the roost with saturation media coverage and having not played finals in 8 years and counting.

      Fagan has begun the steps in the right direction getting the memorabilia and the Players Race put in at the Gabba to show some pride and respect for the jumper. Now if they can just update the Lions signage at the Gabba to use the 2017 Logo and not the 2002 Logo they will be even further on the right track (Gate 2 in particular!).

      As a hypothetical:

      Four draftees from Vic Metro are best mates and played all their TAC Cup Footy together enter the 2017 Draft. One is picked up by Fremantle, one is picked up by Essendon, one is picked up Adelaide and the last one is drafted to Brisbane.

      Those guys will continue to talk to each other about their experiences at “work” and the kid in Brisbane is going to be pretty sharp that not only is he in a city that doesn’t care too much about the Lions at the moment but his three best mates work from epic facilities in AFL cities that treat them like celebrities.

      Not hard to see why retention is an issue and will continue to be for Brisbane until the AFL step in and assist and by assist I mean seriously use all their abilities to wipe the Lions debt and make this ETAF happen ASAP or risk the Lions sliding further out of the public consciousness.

      • Roar Guru

        April 20th 2017 @ 4:33pm
        Paul D said | April 20th 2017 @ 4:33pm | ! Report

        Honestly if we were to lose Schache or McLuggage after their minimum contract expires I’m done. Would not put another $ into supporting this club until such time as the AFL is prepared to give us leverage or power to retain players. I think your post actually understates the impact lack of facilities have – right now there are 17 other clubs that are more appealing destinations than Brisbane and we are somehow supposed to hold onto elite talents with the same payroll as everyone else.

        Anyone who is coming through who is remotely elite will get just get ripped out of the list by a rival club at this rate.

        • April 20th 2017 @ 4:57pm
          George said | April 20th 2017 @ 4:57pm | ! Report

          Sorry about misspelling Schache. Big difference Schache vs Schade 🙂 I would not be surprised if Schache goes as new facilities is probably still 3 years to go at best. Why AFL does not wipe out Lions debt is beyond me. Do they expect them to repay it? Some extra salary incentives may be necessary. I have to say I am very happy with Suns besides signing key players being able to extend all 4 top 10 picks to 4 years. New facilities definitely helped.

        • Roar Guru

          April 20th 2017 @ 5:17pm
          AdelaideDocker said | April 20th 2017 @ 5:17pm | ! Report

          Just curious Paul, are you a member of the Lions?

          • Roar Guru

            April 20th 2017 @ 5:23pm
            Paul D said | April 20th 2017 @ 5:23pm | ! Report

            Just the 3 game membership, not a full one. I have a lot of competing demands for my time on weekends. Cricket umpiring & orchestra commitments mean it’s hard to get to every game, but I watch most of them on TV if I can’t be there.

    • April 20th 2017 @ 10:16pm
      nick said | April 20th 2017 @ 10:16pm | ! Report

      Watched the game against Richmond and could not see any forward pressure. Felt sorry for the back line they tried hard but when the ball comes in from your forward area so quickly and with no pressure something has to give. Don’t think Fagan should have the the two youngsters in the forward line at the same time. And didn’t think Bewick played that badly certainly a lot better than some of the others. Cedric Cox played a decent game as well.
      Pity about Christensen a bit of maturity and toughness in the forward line would be a bonus.

      • April 21st 2017 @ 9:25am
        Keagan Ryan said | April 21st 2017 @ 9:25am | ! Report

        The problem with the Richmond game is we used Robinson to negate Dusty – this season he has been primarily forward for his pressure. Robinson did really well on Martin, but we robbed Peter to pay Paul, and our forward pressure suffered.

        We asked Cedric Cox to perform that role (he replaced Jake Barrett who I thought had been doing okay), but he probably doesn’t have the physical presence to fulfill it… which resulted in just two tackles for him.

        Robinson pretty much HAS to play forward this week, because we’ve also omitted Tom Bell…

        • Roar Guru

          April 21st 2017 @ 9:56am
          DingoGray said | April 21st 2017 @ 9:56am | ! Report

          Tom Bell omission had been coming. Robbo will go forward again. Especially with Bastinac back in.

        • April 21st 2017 @ 4:07pm
          Nick said | April 21st 2017 @ 4:07pm | ! Report

          Never been a fan of Tom Bell. The recruiting team have signed some really ordinary players from other clubs over the years, although Beams and Mitch Robinson have been good pick ups. Even so you can’t just rely on one guy to put the pressure on and surely the young ones must have enough football brains to know not to let the opposition stroll out of attack.

          • Roar Guru

            April 21st 2017 @ 10:20pm
            Paul D said | April 21st 2017 @ 10:20pm | ! Report

            No arguments about Bell, he shows flashes but he’s very inconsistent, bit like that John Butcher who used to play for Port. But to be fair to our recruiting team he was kind of a opportunistic pickup, he wanted home to Qld as his dad had health issues so he didn’t cost us much, downgrade from 2nd to 3rd round in draft and gave up a 4th rounder to Carlton. He serves a role and will give us good service while the kids develop.

            Anyways, I can only agree and hope that it will come with time as these guys get older and develop, I just question though who they’re going to learn it from because there is just no-one in that forward line at the moment, it’s all kids and bits and pieces players. The more I look at the lions list the more I remain convinced we need a few more imports if we’re going to make this work

    • April 21st 2017 @ 1:18pm
      Brendon the 1st said | April 21st 2017 @ 1:18pm | ! Report

      What’s the Gabba like as a stadium?

      I spent years on the outer at Footy Park watching Port get belted in front of 14k, wasn’t great.

      The new stadium makes it so much better.

      • Roar Guru

        April 21st 2017 @ 1:25pm
        AdelaideDocker said | April 21st 2017 @ 1:25pm | ! Report

        I can’t comment on the Gabba, but I definitely agree with you on Adelaide Oval. I’ve been there three or four times and it’s brilliant.

        I love driving past it as well, especially when it’s lit up. Very impressive, ain’t it?

      • Roar Guru

        April 21st 2017 @ 10:23pm
        Paul D said | April 21st 2017 @ 10:23pm | ! Report

        It’s alright, it’s just a smallish circular oval, if that makes sense. Max capacity 40,000, uniform rainbow paddle pop coloured seating. All bare concrete. It’s basic, but it works quite well. Unless it’s full though the crowd noise kinda just disappears straight up in the air, it can be a very soulless place when it’s half empty and the Lions are getting flogged on a Sunday afternoon

        It’s a lot more fun during cricket season

        • Roar Guru

          April 21st 2017 @ 11:45pm
          AdelaideDocker said | April 21st 2017 @ 11:45pm | ! Report

          It’s just south of the CBD yeah? I’m just trying to picture my Brisbane geography. For a kid who’s been told is brilliant at geography my knowedge of Brisbane is lacking… ?

          I remember heading straight past it on a bus (think I was heading to the museums – is the Gabba around there?) sometime when I was in Brisbane fairly recently, the Gabba seems to just appear out of nowhere; sorta like Etihad in Melbourne.

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