With the 2020 AFL season resuming on 11 June, we’ve got plenty of time to give each club a quick once-over beforehand.
Today we tackle the Brisbane Lions, who after a spectacular 2019 opened up their 2020 campaign with a very disappointing 28-point loss to Hawthorn.
Despite taking a two-point lead into the first break, the Lions just never looked quite there against a side they’d previously enjoyed four consecutive wins over.
It’s too early to say they’re at risk of doing a Melbourne but, for a fan base that’s enjoyed just two finals appearances in 15 years, pessimism doesn’t take much encouragement.
Here are four burning questions for the Brisbane Lions ahead of Round 2 and beyond.
Sure, the Hawks got their Brownlow medalist Tom Mitchell back, instantly making them a much tougher proposition than the side the Lions knocked off twice last year.
Brisbane just looked off in a game with which they needed to make a statement following their straight-sets finals exit and have had two months to either move on from it completely or just let it stew.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. The visitors competed in just about every statistical category, taking a narrow lead in inside 50s and finishing level in clearances, but they did give up a few more marks inside 50 and in quality locations too.
They looked to be missing an extra contributor in each area of the ground, most glaringly in the middle.
Cam Ellis-Yolmen was a surprise omission from the Round 1 line-up, with coach Chris Fagan saying his form “just [hadn’t] been good enough.” In his absence Lachie Neale did his job and Jarryd Lyons chipped in, but it would’ve been very nice to have a third contested bull up against Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara.
Hopefully the former free agent has used the time off to get right back into form.
The four-time premiership player gave the Lions 41 games in his two-season stint – not bad for someone who’d retired before joining. Obviously a chunk of his influence came with his voice and leadership, and while he’s still with the club as an assistant coach, the defensive structures looked much poorer in his absence back in March.
Grant Birchall, another ex-Hawk, was brought in as something of a replacement this off-season, but he missed Round 1 with a hamstring injury and will take some managing over the course of the season.
It’s an otherwise very inexperienced back line for the Lions, with four of the six players named in Round 1 yet to play 100 games. Daniel Rich, 29 years old, stands out as the man who’ll need to step up in the leadership department, with Harris Andrews and Darcy Gardiner also having a role to play.
One bright spot from Round 1 was the performance of young Eric Hipwood. The 22-year-old key forward looked sharp, amassing 16 disposals, three goals, five marks (two inside 50), six inside 50s and an equal-team high eight score involvements in a very strong effort.
The young gun fell away in the second half of last season, scoring one or fewer goals in seven of 11 matches after the bye, including a missing persons effort against the Tigers in the qualifying final.
With the defence, midfield, ruck and even small forward divisions all sorted for Brisbane, it’ll be up to both him and Daniel McStay to take the next step in 2020 if the Lions want to challenge for the flag – or at least avoid a regression.
While they did lose their two finals at home last season, Brisbane were close to unbeatable at the Gabba prior to September.
Over the course of the home-and-away season the Lions went 10-1 on their home deck with a healthy average winning margin of 26 points. It wasn’t just easybeats turning up either; reigning premiers West Coast copped a 44-point hammering in Round 1, the Western Bulldogs were seen off by 18 points and Geelong lost by a point in what was arguably the game of the year in Round 22.
The fans rewarded their club too, with 2019’s average crowd of 24,741 a whopping 34 per cent increase on the previous season and the highest figure Brisbane have pulled since Gold Coast joined the competition.
But the atmosphere element of that home ground advantage will almost certainly be absent for all of this season. It’s horrible timing from a financial point of view – the first year in forever they’re guaranteed decent crowds they legally can’t get them – but it’s also unfortunate for a side still on an upward trajectory and in need of every advantage they can get.
South Australian and West Australian clubs being on the Gold Coast for at least four weeks is a huge boost, with the Lions likely staying in Queensland for the first month of the resumed season, but they’ll likely need to bank as many points as they can in that time.