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The decade that was: Brisbane Lions

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Roar Guru
25th October, 2019
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After four years in September wilderness, following a golden era where they made four consecutive grand finals and won three, the Brisbane Lions returned to finals action in 2009.

Following a rousing come-from-behind win over Carlton, the Lions bowed out after being comprehensively beaten by the Western Bulldogs a week later. Excitement at the Gabba reached fever pitch heading into the new decade after an extremely active trade period that saw Brisbane sign Blues bad boy Brendan Fevola, Richmond midfielder Andrew Raines, St Kilda excitement machine Xavier Clarke, West Coast tall Brent Staker and Sydney premiership player Amon Buchanan.

Boasting dual Coleman Medallists up forward in Fevola and Jonathan Brown, Brisbane were highly favoured to continue rising up the AFL ladder. With four wins from the first four games, things were looking on track for Michael Voss and his men.

What followed was a horror capitulation, with Brisbane winning just three of the remaining 18 games in the 2010 season to finish in the bottom four. To make matters worse, Fevola was sacked by the Lions over the off-season after just 17 games and 48 goals.

2011 was considerably worse on the field for Brisbane, managing a paltry four wins. Despite losing valuable goalkicker Mitch Clark, Brisbane bounced back in 2012 to win ten matches, including the final three of the season. The Lions’ 2013 campaign looked like being a forgettable one after winning just three of their first 11 games. However, in a massive resurgence, Brisbane bounced back to win seven of their remaining 11 matches, narrowly missing out on a finals appearance following a one point loss to Geelong in Round 23.

Despite Brisbane’s improved effort in the second half of the year, Michael Voss was sacked after 109 games in charge, with Mark Harvey taking the reigns for the final few games.

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Another club great was handed the top job at the Lions heading into the 2014 season, with Justin Leppitsch announced as the new coach. This decision proved to be an unmitigated disaster for Brisbane, with Leppitsch yielding just 14 wins from 66 games, including only three victories in 2016. Despite having a contract for 2017, Leppitsch was sacked, replaced by long-time assistant coach Chris Fagan.

Fagan made inroads with the Lions almost immediately, despite the win-loss record remaining poor. With ten wins from his first two years in charge, Fagan entered 2019 looking to break a nine year finals drought. In a stunning resurgence, Brisbane surged up the ladder, winning nine consecutive games in the back half of the season to be in first position going into Round 23.

Disappointingly, the Lions lost their final three games, bundled out of the finals in straight sets after home losses to Richmond and Greater Western Sydney.

Best wins

Round 13, 2013 – Brisbane Lions 15.13 (103) def. Geelong 14.14 (98) (Gabba)
We all know this one. Facing a rampaging Geelong outfit with just one loss from their opening 11 games of the season, the Lions found themselves staring down the battle of yet another disappointing loss in front of a home crowd, trailing by 52 points late in the third quarter.

What followed was one of the most extraordinary comebacks seen in the history of the game, with Brisbane slamming on nine of the next ten goals of the contest to close within a point. With only seconds remaining on the clock and the ball locked in defence, the Lions took it from one end to the other in a flash, with the Sherrin landing, quite fittingly, in the hands of 300-game milestoner man Ash McGrath.

With the siren sounding soon after, McGrath went back and roosted a long ball, watching it sail through from outside 50 to complete one of the most famous wins in the history of amalgamated club. It really was the ‘miracle on grass’.

Round 17, 2018 – Hawthorn 9.11 (65) def. by Brisbane Lions 15.8 (98) (UTAS Stadium)
Having lost their last six games in Launceston by an average of 55.5 points, it was widely expected the lowly Lions would again suffer a comprehensive loss when they faced the top four-bound Hawks.

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Facing a 17-point deficit early in the third quarter, Brisbane managed to turn it around, led by gun youngsters Hugh McCluggage (29 disposals, one goal), Cam Rayner (19 disposals, three goals) and Eric Hipwood (seven marks, three goals). Ten of the last 12 goals of the match delivered a 33-point win to the Lions, an emphatic victory that proved Chris Fagan had his charges on the right track.

Round 22, 2019 – Brisbane Lions 10.15 (75) def. Geelong 10.14 (74) (Gabba)
A monster crowd of 35,608 turned up for this top-of-the-table clash in the penultimate round of the 2019 season. Searching for their ninth consecutive win and a chance to go to the top of the ladder for the first time since 2007, the Lions looked a step below the class of Geelong, trailing by 17 points deep into the last quarter.

However, Fagan’s men charged home with the final three goals of the contest, the last of them coming from ex-Cat Lincoln McCarthy after a sensational mark inside 50. Despite a late charge from Geelong, Brisbane held on to win by a point.

Worst losses

Round 19, 2016 – Brisbane Lions 11.13 (79) def. by Port Adelaide 25.23 (173) (Gabba)
In the midst of their worst season under Leppitsch, the Lions attracted a paltry crowd of just 13,085. Despite the Power sitting in the bottom ten, Brisbane were completely obliterated, conceding a monster 48 scoring shots as Port notched up their second-highest score in club history. It nearly couldn’t get any worse for the Lions.

Round 20, 2016 – Adelaide 27.15 (177) def. Brisbane Lions 6.3 (39) (Adelaide Oval)
But it did just one week later. Taking on the finals-bound Adelaide Crows on their home deck, Brisbane were embarrassed to the tune of 138 points, making it the club’s second-biggest loss. Leppitsch would hold the reigns for just three more matches before being shown the door.

Round 4, 2018 – Richmond 16.14 (110) def. Brisbane Lions 2.5 (17) (MCG)
Taking on the reigning premiers at their home ground is never an easy task, something Chris Fagan and his Lions found out early in the 2018 season. On a wet Melbourne afternoon, Brisbane kicked their first goal of the match just prior to three quarter time, finishing with two majors as Richmond ran away with a comprehensive 93-point victory.

Moments that shaped the club

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The recruitment of Brendan Fevola
Despite winning his second Coleman Medal, making his third All Australian side and winning the club goal-kicking award for a seventh consecutive year, Carlton star Brendan Fevola was outed from Princes Park after his controversial antics at the 2009 Brownlow Medal count.

Brisbane came knocking, acquiring Fevola for young tall Lachie Henderson and pick 12, getting selection 27 back in the same deal.

Fevola was a major coup for Brisbane, both on the field and off. 10,000 fans flocked to Visy Park for an exhibition game between the Lions and Blues in the 2010 pre-season competition, before making his official debut in the maroon, blue and gold against West Coast in Round 1. Paired with fellow gun forward Jonathan Brown, Fevola made a brilliant start to life as a Lion, kicking 39 goals from his opening 11 games.

Things quickly soured, with Fevola missing the final four games of the season due to injury and a club-imposed suspension for drinking while in rehab. A month later, he was accused of exposing himself to a woman at a public park, with Brisbane suspending him indefinitely, although he was later cleared of any wrongdoing.

After a night on the town on New Year’s Eve, Fevola was locked up by the police, with Brisbane granting him personal leave to deal with his off-field issues. They eventually ran out of patience, sacking him on the eve of the 2011 pre-season competition.

Player exodus
After two consecutive bottom four finishes in the 2010 and 2011 seasons, the Lions brought in a number of highly-rated youngsters via early draft selections. With 20 wins over the next two years, things appeared to be on the right track for Brisbane. However, senior coach Michael Voss wasn’t the only significant departure at the conclusion of the 2013 season, with Jared Polec (pick 5, 2010 draft), Patrick Karnezis (pick 25, 2010), Billy Longer (pick 8, 2011), Sam Docherty (pick 12, 2011) and Elliot Yeo (pick 30, 2011) all requesting trades from the club.

Elliot Yeo West Coast Eagles AFL 2017

Elliot Yeo of the West Coast Eagles. (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

That’s four first round draft picks over the space of two seasons, as well as a second round selection, departing the club in one fell swoop. It is no surprise that Brisbane fell in a giant hole over the next five seasons, losing a key part of the club’s core group of players that were expected to take the Lions back up the ladder.

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As for the departed players, dubbed the ‘go-home five’?

Yeo has gone on to become a genuine star of the competition, winning two best and fairest awards with West Coast, one of them in a premiership year, while he is a two-time All Australian. Polec enjoyed a solid five seasons with Port Adelaide before moving to North Melbourne.

Docherty has been a terrific pick-up for Carlton, winning the club best and fairest in 2016 before making his first All Australian side a year later. Unfortunately, Docherty hasn’t played since 2017 due to two consecutive ACL injuries, but has impressed so much in an off-field coaching role during that time that he was named co-captain alongside Patrick Cripps.

Longer joined St Kilda and was in and out of the side for much of his time there, before retiring this season, while Karnezis played just four games with Collingwood before retiring.

The player retention issue has continued to dog the Lions, losing James Aish, selected in the top ten of the 2013 draft, after just 32 games in two seasons, while Josh Schache, pick two in the 2015 draft, played just 27 matches over two years before seeking a move back to Victoria.

Chris Fagan’s appointment
With only a handful of wins from three seasons under Justin Leppitsch, Brisbane made the decision to move on their former three-time premiership defender despite having one year remaining on his coaching contract. Long-time Hawthorn assistant Chris Fagan was appointed as the new head coach of the Lions, getting his first senior gig at the age of 55. Despite a lean first couple of years that yielded just ten wins, Fagan took Brisbane back into the finals for the first time since 2009 despite losing star midfielder Dayne Beams in the 2018 trade period.

With new recruits Lachie Neale and Jarryd Lyons leading the midfield, the Lions won 16 matches, including nine in a row in the second half of the season, to finish in second position. Even after Brisbane were bundled out of the finals in straight sets, Fagan was named the AFLCA Coach of the Year.

Best 22 of the decade

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Back pocket – Jed Adcock
A long-time servant of the Lions, Adcock played 115 of his 213 career games with the club in the 2010 decade. Adcock was named co-captain of Brisbane for the 2013 season before taking on full ownership in 2014. In each year between 2011 and his final season with the Lions in 2015, Adcock finished in the top ten of the Merrett-Murray Medal.

Full back – Daniel Merrett
After making a name for himself early in his career as a surly key defender, Merrett spent a large amount of time in the 2010 decade playing at both ends of the ground. He kicked a career-high 26 goals in the 2012 season, including a personal best of seven in a game against GWS.

He will be remembered mostly as a great defender, finishing in the top ten of the Brisbane best and fairest twice this decade before his retirement in 2016.

Back pocket – Joel Patfull
One of the most underrated players across the competition, Patfull was drafted by the Lions in 2005 after an unsuccessful stint with Port Adelaide. He went on to play 182 games with the club, endearing himself to the Brisbane faithful with his work ethic and ability to play on a wide range of opposition forwards, be they tall or small.

He was one of the Lions’ most consistent performers during some lean years in the early part of the decade, winning two Merrett-Murray Medals and finishing in the top ten on two other occasions.

Half back – Daniel Rich
A top ten selection in the 2008 national draft, Rich made an instant impact with the club, becoming the first Brisbane Lion to win the Ron Evans Medal as the Rising Star of the competition. Rich hasn’t quite lived up to the lofty expectations he set in his debut year, but has still been a formidable defender capable of setting up attacks thanks to his trademark long left foot kick.

I'm Rich, biatch!

Daniel Rich. (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)

2019 was arguably his best season yet, averaging career-highs in disposals (22.5 per game) and marks (5.7), claiming a top five finish in the Brisbane best and fairest. Rich has finished in the top ten on four other occasions this decade.

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Centre half back – Harris Andrews
One of the best bargain recruitments in the history of the club, Andrews was drafted at selection 61 in the 2014 national draft and has developed into one of the league’s best defenders. At the age of 21, Andrews was appointed vice-captain of the club, while 2019 saw the youngster named in the All Australian side for the first time.

In a remarkable show of consistency, Andrews has finished in the top ten of the club best and fairest each season since his debut in 2015.

Half back – Pearce Hanley
An Irish recruit signed by the Lions at the age of 19, Hanley did not take long to adapt to the Australian game, quickly becoming a damaging rebounding defender. Despite never winning a Merrett-Murray Medal, Hanley finished in the top five on five occasions between 2010 and 2016.

He also won a Marcus Ashcroft Medal in 2014 as the best player on the ground in a Q-Clash against the Gold Coast Suns, a club he went on to join at the end of 2016.

Wing – Tom Rockliff
One of the best ball magnets the club has ever seen, Rockliff hit his straps in the 2010 season, entrenching himself as a regular in the midfield. He won his first best and fairest in 2011, adding a second in 2014, a year in which he made the All Australian side.

In 2013, Rockliff finished equal-fifth in the Brownlow Medal, while he was named captain of the struggling Lions during the 2015 and 2016 seasons before seeking a move to Port Adelaide as a free agent at the end of 2017.

Centre – Simon Black
A champion of not only the Lions but of the league itself, Black’s career didn’t last long into the 2010 decade, but he still managed to have an impact in the 66 games he played. Black finished runner-up in both the 2010 and 2011 best and fairest awards, while he managed a top ten placing in 2012, a year in which he became the first Brisbane Lion to play 300 games.

He retired a year later on 318 matches, fittingly earning five of a possible nine Brownlow Medal votes over his last three games.

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Wing – Dayne Beams
Collingwood’s shock loss was Brisbane’s gain at the end of the 2014 season, with the star ball-magnet opting to move north to be closer to his ailing father. Beams played some of his best football wearing the maroon, gold and blue, however he was dogged by injury in his first two seasons with the club.

Dayne Beams with possession for Brisbane Lions

Dayne Beams during his time in Brisbane. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Despite playing just 16 games in 2015, he was crowned a joint winner of the Merrett-Murray Medal, an award he would come runner-up in in both 2017 and 2018 as captain of the club. Those two years saw Beams also finish in the top ten of the Brownlow Medal, while he won three Marcus Ashcroft Medals across his time at the Lions.

Half forward – Dayne Zorko (Captain)
It’s incredible to believe that Zorko was overlooked in four national and rookie drafts before finally being signed by the Gold Coast Suns as a Queensland zone selection in 2011, eventually on-traded to the Brisbane Lions. Since making his debut in 2012, Zorko has finished in the top ten of Brisbane’s best and fairest each year, taking out the award in four consecutive years between 2015 and 2018.

Zorko is also a two-time leading goalkicker, while he has made the All Australian side once. Zorko took over the captaincy from Dayne Beams in the middle of 2018, leading to arguably his best campaign yet in 2019, where he finished in the top ten of the Brownlow Medal.

Centre half forward – Jonathan Brown
One of the greatest players to ever pull on the Brisbane jumper, Brown endured a tough run of injuries in the first half of the 2010 decade as his glittering career came to an end. He kicked 53 goals from just 16 games in 2010, before suffering two serious facial injuries in his 2011 campaign, restricting him to just 10 games. Brown recovered to win the club goalkicking award in 2012 and 2013, making it three in the decade.

Having led the club as captain since 2009, Brown relinquished it to Jed Adcock in 2014 after sharing it with him the previous year. It would be Brown’s final season, with another knock to the head cutting short his football journey after 256 games and 594 goals, 82 and 171 in the decade.

Half forward – Lewis Taylor
Taylor burst onto the scene in 2014 as a hard-running winger capable of pushing forward to hit the scoreboard. Despite taking nine rounds to get nominated, Taylor took out the Rising Star Award, narrowly finishing ahead of Marcus Bontempelli by one vote.

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Over his first five seasons, Taylor played 107 of a possible 110 games, kicking 85 goals while finishing in the top ten of the best and fairest three times. As the Lions surged up the ladder in 2019, the 24-year-old lost his place in the best 22, managing just five appearances. At the end of the season, he was traded to the Sydney Swans.

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Forward pocket – Josh Green
In his prime, Green was an effective goalsneak for the Lions, winning two goalkicking awards in 2014 and 2015 with 33 and 25 majors respectively. Over six years with Brisbane, Green played 81 games and booted 107 goals, finishing in the top ten of the Merrett-Murray Medal in 2014.

Full forward – Eric Hipwood
An agile forward standing over 200cm, Hipwood hasn’t taken long to develop into one of the competition’s most exciting young goalkickers. Since booting 11 goals in his debut year, he has kicked 30, 37 and 35 in the following seasons, winning Brisbane’s leading goalkicker award in 2018.

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Forward pocket – Charlie Cameron
Cameron has not been at the Lions for very long, but already he has had a massive impact since crossing over from the Adelaide Crows at the end of 2017. After an injury-interrupted first year with Brisbane, Cameron had a career-best campaign in 2019, winning the club goalkicking award with 57 goals, the most by any Lion since Jonathan Brown in 2009.

He was named in the forward pocket of the All Australian team, while he finished sixth in Brisbane’s best and fairest award, also polling 11 Brownlow Medal votes.

Ruckman – Stefan Martin
Joining the Lions from Melbourne at the end of 2012, Martin took a little while to assert himself in the team, but once he did, he hasn’t looked back. A breakout season in 2014 has seen Martin entrusted with the number one ruck role, becoming one of the league’s most versatile big men.

Martin has been incredibly dependable and consistent for the Lions, missing just four games since 2015, a year in which he was awarded his first best and fairest award. He managed a podium finish every year between 2016 and 2018. Approaching the age of 33, Martin doesn’t appear to be slowing down as Brisbane enters the new decade.

Ruck rover – Jack Redden
Similar to Rockliff, Redden was a dependable midfielder for the Lions as they battled in the bottom half of the ladder in the first half of the decade. He was a constant between 2010 and 2013, playing every single game, managing top five finishes in the Merrett-Murray Medal each year. At the end of 2015, Redden was traded to West Coast.

Rover – Lachie Neale
After many years of young talent walking out of the door at the Gabba, Fremantle star Lachie Neale nominating Brisbane as his preferred home in the 2018 trade period was seen as a watershed moment for the club. Neale could not have had a better debut season with the Lions, playing every single game and averaging just under 31 possessions a match.

He polled 26 Brownlow Medal votes to finish equal-third, while he ended Dayne Zorko’s run of four consecutive best and fairest wins. He was also named in the All Australian side for the first time in his career.

Lachie Neale

Lachie Neale. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

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Interchange – Mitch Robinson
After 100 games with Carlton, Robinson was delisted by the club after a history of off-field issues. Similar to fellow ex-Blue Brendan Fevola, Robinson ended up at the Brisbane Lions. Unlike Fevola, Robinson has thrived at the Gabba, playing 91 games and kicking 40 goals since joining the club in 2015.

In his first year with Brisbane, Robinson was a joint winner of the best and fairest award, while he finished second in 2016.

Interchange – Ryan Lester
A popular member of the club, Lester has found it difficult to nail down a spot in Brisbane’s best 22, playing 126 games across the space of nine seasons. A utility capable of playing all over the field, his best years came in 2016 and 2017, where he played 41 matches and kicked 25 goals across the two campaigns.

He finished ninth in the Merrett-Murray Medal in both of those seasons, but has since fallen out of favour as Brisbane became one of the best teams in the competition.

Interchange – Darcy Gardiner
A versatile defender capable of playing on talls and smalls, Gardiner has been a constant in the Brisbane backline since his debut in 2014, playing 106 games. He has placed in the top ten of the best and fairest in four consecutive years now, including a fourth-placed finish in 2018.

Interchange – Rohan Bewick
A spring-heeled utility capable of taking high-flying marks, Bewick was another player who could never quite establish himself in Brisbane’s best side. Bewick played 103 games between 2011 and 2018, but managed just 11 senior appearances in his final two years before being delisted.

Are the Lions placed better or worse going into the new decade compared to ten years ago?
Much better, however the hype remains the same. Ten years ago, Brisbane was buzzing after a side that had just reached a semi final saw Brendan Fevola and a host of new recruits added to it.

Obviously, it didn’t work out and the Lions spent the best part of the decade wallowing in the lower reaches of the ladder. Brisbane under Chris Fagan are a completely different kettle of fish, and you have to think they are set for a sustained period at the top with the likes of Lachie Neale, Charlie Cameron, Harris Andrews and Hugh McCluggage, among many more, steering the ship.

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Twenty years ago, the Lions were one season shy from embarking on a historic three-peat of premierships. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if this current crop are about to do the same.