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The Roar


There will be no more finals heartache for Brisbane: things are going be different this time

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17th March, 2023

If we rewind back to October 2018, West Coast have just prevailed against Collingwood by five points in one of the most memorable grand finals in recent memory.

I was studying for a Bachelor of Sports Media at the time and there were numerous Collingwood supporters in my class talking about the heartache of losing in such a fashion. As a Brisbane Lions fan, I was thinking that I would take finals heartache anytime, if it meant we were relevant in the competition again.

Since the glory days of the three-peat, the Lions had struggled to gain any sort of relevance apart from 2010, when they recruited star forward Brendan Fevola from Carlton. Fevola had his troubles off-field which meant Brisbane were being talked about for all the wrong reasons.

In 2018, Chris Fagan’s second year in charge of Brisbane, they had a competitive year. Whilst only winning five games, they had a percentage of 89.1. I was thinking that I would not mind losing a final in 2019 if it meant the Lions would be respected again. How wrong I was!

Lions coach Chris Fagan

Chris Fagan has done the hard work, now he seeks the ultimate prize in Brisbane. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

The very next year, I travelled up to Brisbane from Melbourne, with front row seats to see Brent Daniels snap a goal that sent Brisbane crashing out of the finals in straight sets. I was gutted, but at least the Lions were once again being talked about in a positive way.

Ahead of the 2023 season there has been plenty of finals’ anguish for them. A loss to Geelong in the 2020 Preliminary-Final preventing a unique decider at the GABBA due to COVID complications. It was another agonising straight-sets exit in 2021, losing to Melbourne and then the Western Bulldogs by one point.

Even though the 2022 final series ended in a shellacking at the hands of Geelong, there were some positive take-outs from it too; narrowly beating Richmond in an elimination final, ending the MCG hoodoo and the stranglehold that Melbourne had over the Lions in a memorable semi-final.


By no means is it a lay-down misère that the Lions can make the big dance in 2023. Geelong, succeeding after getting so close on previous occasions will be loathed to relinquish their crown. Melbourne will be stinging after the straight-sets exit last season and they have strengthened during the off season with the additions of Brodie Grundy and Lachie Hunter.

There will also be new challengers, like Collingwood who surged up the ladder in the last campaign.

The Lions home and away form has not been an issue over the past four years, they’ve won 60 out of 83 games behind only Geelong who have won 62. Brisbane stumbled at the midway point of last season, thus losing their top four position. However, finishing top four had not helped the Lions in the previous three years. With the weeks’ break before the finals, the top four advantage is not as significant as it once was. Top two would obviously be ideal, to get the two home finals.

The Lions have undoubtedly strengthened over the off season, with the additions of Jack Gunston, Josh Dunkley, Conor McKenna and the father son prospects Will Ashcroft and Jaspa Fletcher. However, there have been some reservations about the acquisitions as Gunston is a forward, Dunkley, Ashcroft and Fletcher are all midfielders and McKenna is a running rebound defender.

The criticism is that they haven’t answered the pressing issue which has been the defence. A reason for the recent finals’ defeats has been not paying enough respect to the opposition. It cost the Lions against GWS in 2019 and against the Bulldogs in 2021.

Dayne Zorko of the Lions looks dejected after his team's defeat against Melbourne.

No excuses for Brisbane in 2023. (Photo by Albert Perez/AFL Photos via Getty Images)


The mindset for the forwards to put on defensive pressure and the midfielders to transition back into defence is the issue, not necessarily the personnel. The pressure and intensity were on display against Melbourne in the 2022 semi-final and it’s been on show in the practice games already this season, but you want to see it when it really matters.

Harris Andrews has been down the previous two seasons due to the lofty standards he set himself earlier in his career. Andrews can often look lackadaisical and, as with most defenders, quick ball movement can catch him undone.

The added responsibility of sharing the captaincy this year will benefit his own game. He performed well in both the Lions’ winning finals last year. The defensive focus instilled into the forwards and midfielders could mean we see a return of the All-Australian Andrews from three years ago.

Brisbane have also highlighted the need for leg-speed in the backline, it worked with Darcy Wilmot in the finals last season. They’ve reinforced that with Mckenna who performed the role at Essendon and Cam Rayner who has been moved down to defence this off-season.

There is a perceived time pressure on Brisbane to reach the grand final after four years amongst the top four. Dayne Zorko is 34 and Daniel Rich is 32, whilst Harris Andrews and Lachie Neale, the co-captains, are 26 and 29 respectively.

The core group of players, Hugh McCluggage, Jarrod Berry, Brandon Starcevich and Zac Bailey are all 23-25 years-old and can compete for years to come. However, as other teams improve, it is difficult to keep finishing top four year on year. Another factor is the redevelopment of the Gabba ahead of the Brisbane 2032 Olympics meaning Brisbane will be without their home ground, possibly for up to four years.

Notwithstanding all the above – everything is there for Brisbane in 2023 – they’ve got all the finals experience they need to go all the way.