Part 1 of the six-part series comprises the five players the Adelaide Crows, Brisbane Lions and Carlton Blues can least afford to lose in 2021, plus each side gets one honourable pre-draft mention.
The Brisbane Lions of the early 2000s were a special team.
A stellar squad featuring names like Leppitsch, Michael, Johnson, Voss, Black, Akermanis, Lappin, Lynch and Brown under the stewardship of Leigh Matthews brought three straight premierships to Queensland before falling to Port Adelaide chasing a fourth.
As a Lions fan that rarely missed a home game through that period, it was hard not to feel spoilt. They played in what was a then newly renovated Gabba without a bad seat in the house and displayed an attractive, direct brand of football that was highly successful.
They were heady days. The Lions’ membership topped 30,000 in 2004, a figure that’s never been reached since.
Then, of course, came the lean years. Four straight grand finals will inevitably lead to a drop-off and Brisbane were certainly in no position to escape what came next.
In short, the Lions were a shambles in the years that followed the 2004 grand final. A series of questionable management decisions both on and off the field – hello, Brendan Fevola – coincided with the advent of the Gold Coast Suns, which split the south-east Queensland football market, which led to a decade-plus of mediocrity that had the club going cap in hand to the AFL seeking a handout more than once.
After 14 years of disappointment that saw them anchored to the bottom four with an overall winning percentage of 34% and only one sole finals appearance, the Lions made possibly their smartest buy since one Leigh Matthews and handed the reigns to Chris Fagan, a universally respected football man.
The results weren’t there straightaway and with a total of ten wins in those first two years, Fagan himself would have had a few doubts about the scale of the task he’d signed up for.
Yet through careful drafting, clever recruiting and the development of a few old heads, now deep into his third year in the job, he’s built a team that works hard, grinds for each other and most importantly plays a winning brand of footy.
In fact, they’re winning more than they lose, the crowds are starting to come back and teams fear a trip to the Gabba again. Most importantly, they’ll play finals this year, signaling their first appearance in September since 2009.
All of this signals a welcome return to relevance for the Lions. Of course, wins on the board are one thing and one winning season doesn’t automatically lead to another – just ask a Demons supporter!
But still with a young and developing list, it’s clear the Lions are built to contend not just this year, but for several to come.
If you’re doubting Brisbane’s depth, consider this – their NEAFL team are riding an unbeaten season and doing so with a lazy percentage of 247.
Indeed, the club is even on track to make a profit again this year. It won’t be West Coast or Richmond money, but for a club that hasn’t been profitable since 2007, it will be nice to be in the black for a change.
Yes, the Lions are relevant again. Brisbane fans are walking taller and a team outside AFL heartland is making noise for the right reasons.
Considering just how far back they’ve come from, the AFL should hand Chris Fagan that coach of the year prize now.
But more than that, for bringing the club and indeed returning AFL in Queensland to relevance, so long as he leaves a shadow in Queensland, he should never have to buy a XXXX again.