The Brisbane Lions’ leap from perennial cellar dweller to flag contender has caught everyone off guard.
How good is it to see the Lions back at the top of the AFL ladder!
Many football scribes during the preseason had pencilled the Lions in at 0-3, but the reverse is true and the Lions sit second on the ladder behind Geelong on percentage.
One of the most pleasing things has been the wins have come about. After being a long way down against West Coast at quarter-time, the Lions kept the reigning premiers to two goals for the rest of the game. I’ll say it again – two goals in three quarters from the reigning premiers.
Against the Kangaroos the Lions started similarly slowly, with North Melbourne getting out to an early lead but Brisbane grinding them down throughout the game to escape 20-point winners. The game was a lot closer than that scoreline suggests, but the Lions got it done when it mattered and then put the foot down in the last few minutes.
But on Saturday night the Lions got out to an early lead against Port Adelaide only for Port to claw their way back into the match and into the lead in the fourth quarter. It was the first time this season that the Lions have been hunted, and in years past they would have folded – indeed it looked like it could happen again when Port started the final quarter with a bang and moved out to a ten-point lead.
With just four minutes left on the clock the Lions were trailing, having given up the solid lead they had earnt in the first quarter. But, incredibly, Brisbane managed to move the margin out to 17 points, again putting a much bigger gap on the scoreboard than there was in the game.
As a long-suffering Brisbane Lions fan, each of the last 15 seasons has consisted of the pretty much the same elements: hope for the future, expectation of disappointment and fear that some key players will announce they are leaving the club for greener pastures. But this season is different. The Lions are winning, and winning as a team. They’ve built a squad that can pressure every team in the competition and looks committed to working together even when they’re getting belted on the scoreboard.
Chris Fagan and his staff must be applauded for the work they’ve done. Not only are the Lions playing good footy, but they’ve also built a culture that has come to the fore over the last few weeks and will hold the team in good stead for the remainder of the season. There is definitely still work to be done, but one thing that is certain: this Lions team won’t roll over like they have in the past.
Getting Luke Hodge as a backfield general is probably even more important this season with the limited runners allowed on the ground, and Hodge is showing his absolute class helping the team stand up when the chips are down.
At the start of the season I tipped the Lions to make the finals, and last week I went as far as suggesting they could finish as high as sixth. At the time of writing, 61 per cent of pundits on AFL.com.au are tipping them to finish just outside the eight. True, they don’t have the polish or the absolute weapons around the ground that the likes of Geelong or West Coast have, but they have a team full of scoring options and the ability to juggle their on-field set-up and strategy as the game ebbs and flows.
Whether it’s sending the big Oscar McInerney forward to take a clutch mark or using Cam Rayner or Charlie Cameron to kick the small forward and crumbing goals, the Lions have flexibility and threats they haven’t had for years Perhaps more importantly, they also have the defensive ability and pressure work to back it up.
I’m going to stick with my prediction of sixth knowing that it’s a long season and injuries and form will come and go, but one thing is for sure: I won’t be tuning into the Lions with a backup plan in place for half-time, and I’ll be riding every set shot and spoil like I haven’t in a long time.