And then there were five. Welcome to lucky part number 13 of my season reviews on every side.
A Lincoln McCarthy behind with less than 30 seconds to play has pushed Brisbane into fourth for the AFL finals in a dramatic 38-point win over West Coast.
Brisbane won 19.11 (125) to 13.9 (87) at the Gabba on Saturday but their battle was effectively against the Bulldogs, who they eventually leapfrogged into fourth on percentage thanks to the dramatic 38-point win.
Coach Chris Fagan had texted his players earlier on Saturday in an attempt to explain the mathematical scenario.
But it looked as if calculators would not be required when they jumped ahead by 30 points in the first term and on their way to a double-chance courtesy of their top-four finish.
An Eagles team missing Josh Kennedy, Jeremy McGovern, Brad Sheppard, Jack Redden and Tim Kelly rallied though, dominating the second quarter and then getting within five points of the Lions to seemingly scupper their hopes of a second chance in the post-season.
Two quick Jamie Cripps goals in the final term even had Fagan convinced, but five straight majors shot them back in front of the margin required and ignited the Gabba crowd, who along with the Lions’ bench had done the maths.
Jack Darling’s third goal dented hopes again, but Brisbane edged back as shouts from the bench informed players just one more point would be enough.
Daniel McStay’s set shot from 50m then missed everything, bouncing out with 30 seconds left to play.
But McCarthy scrambled from the next stoppage and snapped the point they needed to edge ahead of the Bulldogs again.
Charlie Cameron then intercepted the Eagles’ attempt to clear their defence, kicking a goal after the siren to blow out what was otherwise a historically narrow one-point difference between fourth and fifth.
There was further drama too, with Fox Footy claiming a time-keeping error added a crucial 24 seconds to what was an already marathon fourth quarter.
“Our boys, like they’ve had a habit of doing over the last three or so years, found a way to score pretty quickly and in the end it was never in doubt,” Fagan said with a grin.
“I’d resigned myself to the fact we were going to finish fifth and play an elimination final.
“It’s out of your hands as a coach and it’s up to the players to find a way and they did.”
The loss ended the Eagles’ finals hopes – their first finals absence since 2014 and first under coach Adam Simpson.
And it pushed the Bulldogs, who lost by two points to Port Adelaide on Friday, into a sudden death finals game next week.
“I thought we played with spirit but we weren’t just good enough in the end to handle their pressure,” Simpson said.
“We ran out of steam in the end and it obviously didn’t go our way.
“We were playing to win too and it opened the game up.”
Nic Naitaniu was immense for the Eagles while Joe Daniher (four goals) became the first to kick a goal in every regular-season game since he did it in 2017.
Nakia Cockatoo was prolific early as he emerged as a late-season weapon for the Lions, while Daniel Rich finished with 29 touches and Eagle Luke Shuey collected 35 disposals and 13 clearances.
Lions fullback Harris Andrews (hamstring) was a late out, replaced by Marcus Adams in what was his return from a foot injury but in no doubt for finals according to Fagan.
Eagle Oscar Allen was subbed out in the third quarter with concussion, replaced by Jack Petruccelle.