The Brisbane Lions’ season once again has finished in finals heartbreak for the third consecutive season.
On two of the three occasions, the Lions have been knocked out in straight sets after finishing in the top four. This season their finals record for the past three seasons ended on one win and five losses.
Questions will now arise regarding this Lions squad’s ability to perform on the big stage.
The Brisbane Lions entered the 2021 AFL season with high expectations after being knocked out in the preliminary finals in 2020.
It was a slow start for Chris Fagan’s side, after losing three of their first four games the Lions were sat 16th on the ladder.
However, Brisbane was able to quickly rediscover their brand as they went on to win their next seven straight games before the eventual minor premiers, Melbourne, ended their run.
Brisbane lost three more games for the remainder of the season were able to secure top four in their final home and away match for the season against the West Coast Eagles.
It would have been easy and understandable for Chris Fagan to shake up his team’s playing style after the first four games of the season. However, he stuck with his system and the wins accumulated.
Brisbane excelled at goalscoring in 2021, finishing the season with more goals than any other side.
The recruitment of Joe Daniher has added an extra dimension to the Lions’ forward line, and he’s brought goals. Daniher was the only player in the competition to kick a goal in every home and away game this season.
Linking up with the likes of Charlie Cameron, Lincoln McCarthy and Eric Hipwood, the Lions attack has become arguably the most lethal in the competition.
The 2021 season allowed Chris Fagan to bring in new faces and increase the quality of depth the side has. Jaxon Prior has become a regular starter for the Lions after being drafted at pick 59 at the 2019 national draft.
Other players such as Jack Payne, Brandon Starcevich, James Madden and Marcus Adams all managed to play more games for the Lions than any other season in 2021.
The Lions struggled with inconsistency throughout the 2021 season. Their best made them look like the best team in the competition, however, they were prone to giving up wins to sides they shouldn’t have.
Of the seven losses that Brisbane suffered, arguably four of them should’ve gone the Lions way. Losses to Collingwood, St. Kilda, Richmond and Hawthorn would’ve been frustrating for the Fagan’s side as they just snuck into the top four.
An injury to Eric Hipwood early in the match to St. Kilda threw a spanner in the Lions forward line structure.
The Lions ended up losing that game as well as two of the following three matches.
With the 2020 Brownlow Medalist, Lachie Neale, struggling with injury throughout the season, Jarryd Lyons was the man who stood up for the Lions.
Although he is already a highly respected player for Brisbane, it’s often felt that Lyons is stuck in the shadow of Neale, however, when the opportunity arose this season, it was taken with both hands.
Lyons finished the season with an average of over 28 disposals and 6 tackles per game for the Lions, the highest-ranked at the club for either stat. Lyons also finished in the top ten highest-ranked players in the competition for contested possessions.
Daniel Rich also produced arguably his best season in his career to date. The 31-year-old recorded career-best numbers, averaging over 25 disposals including over 21 kicks off his ever-reliable, famous left boot. Rich had more rebound 50’s than any other Lion, more than doubling the amount of the next highest. Rich also featured in the All-Australian side for the first time in 2021.
Dayne Zorko also put in another brilliant effort, leading his side from the front. Zorko averaged over 24 disposals per game and led the team for score involvements, averaging more than seven a game.
It was another fantastic season from winger, Hugh McCluggage, who was once again rewarded by featuring in the 40-man All-Australian squad.
The Lions had a day out against the Magpies just two weeks away from finals with an 85-point demolition.
Coming off a 64-point win against the Dockers the previous week, the Lions looked unstoppable.
The game remained even for majority of the first half, with Collingwood still within 10 points of the Lions. But after five successive goals in the back half of the second quarter, it was all one-way traffic for the remainder of the match.
Brisbane produces 11 separate goalkickers on the day, including six for livewire small forward, Charlie Cameron. Joe Daniher and Daniel McStay also added three goals each.
Neale and McCluggage both finished with 30 disposals and a goal. Lyons and Zac Bailey each had more than 25 disposals and a goal as Zorko also finished with over 25 disposals.
Round One was a horror start for the Lions off the back of a preliminary final loss. Coming up against the Swans who finished 16th on the ladder last season and was boasting an extremely young side that included three debutants, all expectations pointed towards a comfortable Lions win.
It appeared it was going to go that way after the Lions kicked the first three goals of the game in the first five minutes, however, the Swans went on to kick the next seven.
The game was even from that moment on with each team gaining bursts of momentum. However, after half-time, the Swans with their youthful courage started to kick away and soon the game became out of reach for the Lions.
The Lions kicked the final three goals for the match to make a 31-point loss seem more respectable. The Lions allowed first gamers Errol Gulden and Logan McDonald to kick three goals apiece as Callum Mills had a day out after being moved to the Swans midfield.
Heading into the match as one of the premiership contenders, a Round One loss to Sydney was not thought to be possible to many.
It will be interesting to see whether Grant Birchall has played his last game of AFL with the veteran out of contract.
The 33-year-old showed signs of slowing down this year although his experience and leadership will still be of value to the Lions.
After playing just 16 AFL games over the last five seasons including none in 2021, it’s hard to see Archie Smith getting a renewal when his contract runs out this year.
The 200cm ruckman has spent eight years on the Lions list, however, it looks like his time could be up at the Lions den.
Tom Joyce, Connor Ballenden, Kalin Lane and Brock Smith, are also out of contract.
Number one off-season priority
Chris Fagan will have to find a way to put the disappointments of the previous three finals campaign’s out of his squad’s mind when getting ready to do it all again in 2022.
Fagan knows he has all the tools to win a premiership at his disposal, with quality at each end of the ground and depth to go with it.
Clicking the reset button and going again isn’t easy and can be weighing heavily on his players.
Despite Tom Fullarton showing promising signs, Oscar McInerney needs a reliable backup to carry some of the load on his shoulders.
Also, recent reports from Ryan Daniels suggests that Lachie Neale is set to request a trade back to his former club, Fremantle.
The Lions gave up picks 6, 19 and 55 for Neale and pick 30 in 2018. Neale has since won a Brownlow and featured in two All-Australian sides since joining the Lions. With Neale still having a year remaining on his contract, the Lions would demand a lot more than what they gave up for the star player.
Brisbane fans can expect their club to be in premiership contention once again in 2022.
Another preseason for some of the youngsters such as Deven Robertson and Jaxon Prior will be great for squad depth. Young Harry Sharp showed plenty of promise in his two games before suffering an ankle injury.
Brisbane has the opportunity to do some clever recruiting to fill the minor holes that can take them a step further next season, especially if Lachie Neale does head back to Western Australia.
With one of the best lists in the competition, the only real question that surrounds the Lions is regarding how well they can bounce back in 2022.
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