Who are the Lions players that should play to their optimum level in season 2021?
The AFL’s most long-standing and torturous trade saga is finally over, with Essendon key forward Joe Daniher moving through free agency to preliminary final losers Brisbane.
Ever since he had a mysterious coffee date with Tom Harley in Sydney last year, the constantly painful bickering and posturing from Daniher and the Bombers can now be put to rest, and we can all move on with our lives into the future.
But what will that future look like? What will Essendon look like post Daniher, and what will Brisbane look like with him?
For Brisbane, this is the most sensible move. They add a full forward in his prime, who just three years ago was on the brink of super-duper-stardom, kicking 65 goals and leading Essendon to an elimination final loss in 2017. In the years since, Daniher has fallen to osteitis pubis, which has kept him to just 15 games and 18 goals, with games against Collingwood on Anzac Day last year and Hawthorn this year reminding us of his talents.
For Essendon, they now boast a forward line of Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, Jayden Laverde, James Stewart and Jake Stringer. This is not a very good forward line. Daniher’s absence was one of the chief reasons with the Bombers’ scoring the past few seasons, but the underlying mediocrity of their aforementioned spearheads is truly overpowering.
Daniher is a box-office player. His powerful (often inaccurate) kicking, bursting athleticism, trademark moustache, bizarrely long legs and ability to do the magnificent and the idiotic within seconds make him the AFL’s ultimate entertainer when he’s not been wiped out by shonky groins. And as a result, the possibilities are endless in a post-Daniher-at-Essendon universe. Not all of them are good, but they’re certainly entertaining.
1. Daniher leads Brisbane to premiership success
If there’s one thing that we can learn from Brisbane’s prelim loss to Geelong this year, it’s that a tall forward battery of Eric Hipwood, Dan McStay and Oscar McInerney doesn’t quite cut it when challenging for premierships. Daniher’s addition to Brisbane theoretically fixes that problem. Over the past few seasons, Brisbane have made a name out of improving their recruits, be that Lachie Neale, Jarryd Lyons, Lincoln McCarthy or Charlie Cameron. Daniher, if all goes according to his and Brisbane’s plan, could be the missing piece to the puzzle.
Who’s to say that Daniher doesn’t blitz the league next year, kick 80 goals (and 75 behinds), win the Coleman and lead the Lions to premiership glory? There’s a proven track record of blockbuster full forwards immediately improving their new teams, be that Barry Hall at the Swans, Tony Lockett at the Swans and even Doug Wade at the Kangaroos in the mid ’70s. Brisbane also crucially play a game suited to Daniher domination, playing quickly through the wings and half back and not the sleepy imitation of Richmond the Bombers were trying (and failing) to implement in 2020.
2. Daniher leaves Essendon in a permanent state of mediocrity
So not much will change.
3. Daniher is an injury-riddled disaster
Brisbane are the injury gurus at this point, with Harris Andrews’ minor hamstring injury the only blip on their injury record over the past two years. They’ve successfully resuscitated Lincoln McCarthy, prolonged Grant Birchall’s career, and maintained an astonishingly clean bill of health.
Daniher presents their biggest challenge yet, and this could all go tits up by the end of his three-year deal. If this does happen, and Daniher struggles to get out on the park, then Brisbane will be stuck waiting for Hipwood to get it going, McStay to not suck and for McInerney to be possessed by the spirit of Corey McKernan, which is where they’ve been for both of the last two years.
Three years of injured Daniher means three years more of the Lions being a top-four team instead of a premiership team. It could mean the difference between being premiers or the late-2000s Bulldogs.
4. Daniher is an incompetent disaster
Daniher’s biggest fault outside of his groins is his wayward goal-kicking, which also happens to be Brisbane’s biggest fault. If I forecast to by the end of next season and Brisbane’s shots on goals are a Texas Chainsaw Massacre-esque violent fever dream I wouldn’t be surprised.
This might actually be the most entertaining possibility. Imagine the pain and suffering on the faces of the Lions faithful, as Daniher takes a mark 20 out directly in front, beginning his routine and slowly walking in on goal, only to spray it off the side of his left boot and slam into the point post, leaving the crowd devastated… but ultimately in peace and not surprised.
5. Daniher gets traded to the Giants in two years
Sorry, wrong injury-prone, wayward-kicking and permanently tantalising key forward. That’s Jesse Hogan.
6. Essendon are rejuvenated and the two clubs meet in the 2023 grand final
Three years of Daniher at Brisbane has catapulted the Lions to being the kings of the AFL, taking over from Richmond as the resident dynasty of the AFL. The addition of Daniher as the missing piece to the premiership puzzle takes them to the promised land over the next few years, ripping off a couple of flags. Hipwood becomes a fitting foil to Daniher, with the pair combining with Charlie Cameron to form a fearful forward trio that wreaks havoc on helpless AFL defences.
But Essendon are the true story of this hypothetical. The removal of Daniher opens up the possibility of a mini rebuild on the fly, rejuvenating the forward line with some spunky talents. Irving Mosquito goes from a guy with a cool name to Eddie Betts 2.0, Jake Stringer starts playing like it’s 2015, James Stewart becomes good for some reason, Zach Merrett stays and wins a Brownlow, and it turns out Ben Rutten was a wonderful genius after all.
They take all of this bursting talent and enter the 2023 grand final as an improbable premiership contender, motivated to take on the evil, now not-so-wholesome Lions.
The result? I have no idea. This is a fake hypothetical. But the point is that while Brisbane are the on-the-surface winners of Daniher moving, it doesn’t mean that Essendon can just wallow in their misery for the next decade.
If the Lions have proven anything since Chris Fagan took over, it’s that you can’t be incompetent forever, and sometimes it takes having your teeth punched in for you to get new ones and re-evaluate why someone punched you in the face in the first place.