A lot has been made of the fact that the Brisbane Lions were the first team to finish first or second at the end of the home-and-away season then go out of the finals in straight sets in the first two weeks.
This was something that was eventually going to happen and it is due more to the increasing evenness of the competition than any failing on behalf of the Lions.
Brisbane were competitive in both of their finals. Although the margin blew out to 47 points in their match against Richmond in the qualifying final, they were well in the game early on and it was mainly their poor shooting for goal that prevented them from leading the Tigers by a reasonable margin and thus changing the dynamics of the game.
The game against Greater Western Sydney could have gone either way and the Giants hit the lead for the final time with only three minutes to go and held on to win by three points.
After the semi-final loss to Greater Western Sydney, the Brisbane fans stood and applauded their team, and rightly so as the true story is the remarkable rise up the ladder that the Lions were able to achieve in one season.
In his first two years as coach, Chris Fagan won only five games so you could be forgiven for thinking there had been no improvement in that time. In fact, as well as finishing three positions higher up the ladder in 2018 than they did in 2017, the Lions improved their defence by six goals per game and their percentage at the end of the year had improved from 74 to 89.
The major reason for this was the recruitment of Hawthorn’s Luke Hodge who – because of his age – was considered surplus to requirements at Hawthorn. Hodge set about marshalling the back line and monitoring the considerable improvement achieved through the young players until they became a solid, dependable defensive unit.
The Lions had already recruited well in 2018 by adding the unpredictable Charlie Cameron from Adelaide to the forward line structure, but the master stroke was the 2019 recruitment of Lachie Neale from Fremantle.
The classy midfielder played every game for the season, achieving at least 20 possessions in every game with a remarkable 51 in the last home-and-away game of the season against Richmond.
Neale was listed in the best players in 17 games, more than any other Brisbane player, although veteran Daniel Rich, captain Dayne Zorko and 21-year-old Hugh McCluggage were also prominent.
The most pleasing aspect, however, was that 23 different names featured on that list of the best players in at least one game, highlighting again the improvement of the squad across the board.
Luke Hodge has announced his retirement and will need to be replaced, but his job at the club may be done, and some further astute recruiting in 2020 will bring even greater rewards next year.
Daniel Rich passed the game tally of Jed Adcock on Saturday and now sits in outright tenth.