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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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    The Crowd Says (22)

    • June 19th 2017 @ 9:06am
      schaefer said | June 19th 2017 @ 9:06am | ! Report

      Sorry Jay, but it’s still a very long road!

    • Roar Guru

      June 19th 2017 @ 10:05am
      Paul D said | June 19th 2017 @ 10:05am | ! Report

      We were always going to have to pay a penalty for winning 3 in a row and the ritual humiliation we suffered for the last few years under Leppa was that payment. The AFL were never going to risk the wrath of the established clubs by stepping in before everyone agreed the Lions were absolutely deplorable and in too deep to get themselves out by themselves. Lo and behold now we have some experienced heads running the team the Lions are starting to resemble a proper football club again.

      I maintain though that on-field success is pointless without putting in place the off-field support to keep the club going when we’re not winning. Still a lot of work to do re: facilities which remain under a cloud of uncertainty. The Springfield option may well be mired indefinitely if Rob Pyne is able to prove any of the accusations he’s been slinging around under the protection of Parliamentary privilege, given that the Lions chairman is also deputy director of the Springfield Land Corporation, which has been accused of paying bribes to former mayor of Ipswich Paul Pisasale over the transfer of the land earmarked for the training facility.

      I personally believe that the AFL is going to have to step up to the plate with the money for these facilities. State Parliament already copped a fair whack of acrimony last week for putting in 2.2 billion to get Crossrail going (from which the Lions stand to benefit immeasurably). This drew parochial comments like this from Robbie Katter “North Queenslanders will not forget that this government thought $2 billion was better spent on a project so city people could get home from work a bit earlier, rather than on infrastructure projects to invest in north Queensland’s future”. Against a backdrop of a state splitting in two between Brisbane & the rest & struggling with debt I don’t think you’re going to find a state government willing to commit a cent to build a training facility in Brisbane for a bunch of high paid athletes for a code the bulk of people in this state can’t stand.

      • Roar Guru

        June 19th 2017 @ 11:13am
        Col from Brissie said | June 19th 2017 @ 11:13am | ! Report

        Paul, I don’t know all the details re the Springwood facilities but I don’t know why their wasn’t a partnership with Aspley who last year opened a new facility in Pine Rivers. It comprises a new oval, training facilities, lighting etc. and construction of a clubhouse and further facilities are planned. The Government kicked in $1 million and surely with contributions from the AFL and Lions this could have been developed into a state-of-the-art facility. I don’t know if it is a Northside/Southside thing but if it had of happened they could be using it now.

        • Roar Guru

          June 19th 2017 @ 12:50pm
          Paul D said | June 19th 2017 @ 12:50pm | ! Report

          I think it was sponsorship issues, the major sponsors have only committed to the Springfield site. Plus there is a huge financial incentive with the ‘peppercorn lease’ the Lions have been offered over the land – subject to above allegations.

          The bigfooty Lions page is full of blokes running up various flagpoles for various sites all over Brisbane. There’s now a suggestion to get onboard with USC and their new site in Petrie where the old paper mill was. I can’t see us abandoning Springfield anytime soon though, Sharpless seems determined to get us there come hell or high water.

      • June 19th 2017 @ 8:04pm
        Simoc said | June 19th 2017 @ 8:04pm | ! Report

        You must be one of the few people to take any notice of Robbie Katter. He’ll be pleased that someone heard him. Coming from Mt Isa his brain is as barren as the countryside there. But that area does need a stand up comedian and the Katters deliver.

        Brisbane may well become a good AFL team again. Leppitch and Voss didn’t have what it takes to mould a footy side but Fagan is doing an excellent job to date. Thank goodness for that.

        • Roar Guru

          June 20th 2017 @ 9:49am
          Paul D said | June 20th 2017 @ 9:49am | ! Report

          My repeating of the quote should not be seen as an endorsement – I noticed a few articles mentioning it, that’s all. He’s speaking for a section of the population in regional qld who think they’re ignored and taken for granted. Therefore while the Premier has such a wafer thin majority in the house the AFL shouldn’t expect her to do anything so silly and visible as spending money on a training facility in Brisbane for high paid athletes & give the regions a huge stick to whack her with.

          The Lions might get some funding as part of an election campaign in 2018. Might. If they don’t forget it for another few years. The Lions simply don’t rate in QLD and there’s no way the state government will risk a wound to help us out.

          Also I lived in Mt Isa for 3 of my teenage years and while it is an interesting town, I do agree re: comments concerning the lifelong locals.

    • June 19th 2017 @ 10:38am
      kenzo said | June 19th 2017 @ 10:38am | ! Report

      Nice report Jay…all fingers crossed.
      Injuries are always going play a big part.
      Let hope the group can keep together.

    • June 19th 2017 @ 10:52am
      Gecko said | June 19th 2017 @ 10:52am | ! Report

      Economically, NSW is far ahead of Queensland yet can only afford two teams. Is it too early to argue that Queensland can only afford one team? Certainly the last decade has suggested so.

      If you want to grow the game in Queensland, you want a team that’s consistently competitive, like the Swans.

      When Ablett returns to Victoria at the end of 2017 (or fades due to age), I fear we’ll once again have two struggling Queensland teams and empty stadiums in Queensland.

      • June 19th 2017 @ 1:22pm
        GoSwans said | June 19th 2017 @ 1:22pm | ! Report

        Brisbane is a thriving multicultural hub with a population of 2.2 million, making it the third-largest city in Australia.

        Gold Coast City’s official population as of the 30th June 2016, is 567,644.

        Surely that’s enough people to support two teams.

        If they continue to struggle it will be a failure of equalisation and make the advantages of being a Victorian team all the more clear.

        • June 19th 2017 @ 8:14pm
          Simoc said | June 19th 2017 @ 8:14pm | ! Report

          In Queensland AFL is a distant second to league which has two highly performing teams in the NRL. In Perth and Adelaide rugby league (NRL) is nowhere and takes none of the major sponsors money.

          I reckon one team here (Qld), one in Tasmania (North Melbourne) and eventually one in the NT (Bulldogs) would make the AFL game truly national but these things take decades.

    • June 19th 2017 @ 1:04pm
      Mickyo said | June 19th 2017 @ 1:04pm | ! Report

      Lions AFLW team is apparently selling a game to Tassie next year for $100k.

      Not sure whether this a good move or not, although I doubt they will do something like that once their new facilities are developed

    • Roar Rookie

      June 19th 2017 @ 3:37pm
      Ryan Geer said | June 19th 2017 @ 3:37pm | ! Report

      I’ve always followed the progress of the Lions as a club always having a soft spot for them. Even though still down the bottom I can see light at the end of the tunnel and agreeing with your point that they have All Australian candidates in Zorko, Beams and Stef Martin. I’ve also loved watching the growth of Hipwood, I’ve heard people comparing him to Buddy in recent weeks, I reckon that’s a bit steep so early on I would say a mix between a young Tom Lynch and young Jeremy Cameron. Lych with his size and build at the same age and Cameron with the way he moves and kicks on his left. He has to be the key forward of the future for the Lions.They have the young pieces and midfield stars I really hope that it’s the start of Brisbane’s rise back up the ladder.

      • June 19th 2017 @ 4:17pm
        Mickyo said | June 19th 2017 @ 4:17pm | ! Report

        Hipwood has the athleticism of buddy, but not the strength, buddy was very strong not as coltish looking as hipwood.

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