For fans of lower-ranked teams, often the best part of the year is the off-season, where every team is even and seeds of hope can be sewn.
We get a glimpse of the young players we might be able to cling onto as a positive sign when the team is mired at the bottom of the ladder, and we can dare to dream that, just maybe, this season will be different.
For most clubs, this illusion is shattered as soon as the on-field actions begin; however, there’s one team for whom this year, the off-season hype might just turn out to be well-founded.
Brisbane have come a long way since their ‘annus horribilis’ in 2013. After losing four former first-round draftees that year (and Elliott Yeo, who was taken with pick 30, but in hindsight obviously should have been taken much earlier), Brisbane have turned around their fortunes and become a ‘destination club’.
This started two years ago when Charlie Cameron and Allen Christensen both joined the club, but really came to pass at the end of 2017, when the club lured champion Hawk Luke Hodge out of retirement. Perhaps the biggest vote of confidence in the club has come this year, as arguably one of the top 10 midfielders in the competition in Lachie Neale chose Brisbane over returning home to his native South Australia.
Former Bulldog defender Marcus Adams, too, eschewed a return to Western Australia in favour of plying his trade at Brisbane.
This off-season, the only losses suffered were for ostensibly personal reasons, with Sam Mayes released to return home to South Australia seeking greater opportunities, and former captain Dayne Beams heading back to Collingwood. Losing Beams is obviously a big blow to Brisbane’s hopes this year, and means that, rather than be the icing on top of an already potent midfield group, Neale will instead need to replace Beams’ effort.
In seasons’ past, losing Beams would have been utterly devastating for Brisbane – but not this year. Beams’ request to leave apparently came right at the end of trade period, leaving Brisbane little time to work out what to do.
That they managed to secure two first-round picks from Collingwood, and then picked up prolific Gold Coast midfielder Jarrod Lyons as a delisted free agent, speaks volumes to the club’s maturity.
Another sign of Brisbane’s appeal is the fact that they’ve managed to re-sign most of the draftees taken over the past two years to contract extensions, including prized quartet Cam Rayner, Hugh McLuggage, Jarrod Berry, and Alex Witherden, who look likely to be A-grade players over the next 10 years.
So, what’s changed?
On-field, Chris Fagan has obviously made a huge difference as coach. He seems to have instilled a greater sense of ‘collectiveness’ in his players, as well as the confidence to take on a more attacking game style.
Crucially, he’s also brought some of the IP he picked up at the Alastair Clarkson Coaching School (aka Hawthorn); identifying Hodge as a marshal and director down back was a key example of this.
Fagan also seems to be backing in the young players in his group. With a young list, it’s a fine balance between giving young players too much responsibility, or not enough, but Fagan has done this very well.
He’s put his trust in Witherden, Harris Andrews, and Dan McStay down back, and has also given McLuggage, Berry, and Rayner ample opportunity to show their wares. Adding Neale and Lyons to the midfield will certainly provide more support and should continue to allow the younger players to flourish.
I think it’s a bit too early on the Brisbane journey to tell whether they’ve been drafting and acquiring players who can play to a certain game style, or whether the game style has been engineered around the players they have. I suspect it’s a bit of both, and I think it should become clearer this year as their game style becomes more settled.
Off-field, Brisbane CEO Greg Swann has spoken about greater focus placed on player welfare, including creating a supportive environment where players moving interstate can feel settled and comfortable. Clearly, this was lacking in the past, so the club is reaping the rewards now of greater investment in this area.
Brisbane still has some way to go in its development, but, for once, we should believe the hype. They have the makings of an excellent team and should be aiming to finish anywhere from 8th-10th this year.