Read part one of our interview with Jason Akermanis here.
Jason Akermanis certainly announced himself as a star of the competition in 1999.
He would claim the Brisbane Lions’ best and fairest and win the first of his four All-Australian jumpers as the Lions finished third at the end of the home and away season.
Yet, it almost didn’t happen after a pre-season incident.
“Leigh (Matthews) tried to sack me in the pre-season too,” Akermanis told The Inner Sanctum.
“I went out and got on the gas when the boys were away playing as I’d been dropped.
“Leigh wanted to make a scapegoat and I got out and got drunk and I was really sick, sweating bullets and alcohol.
“Someone tipped him off, he went to the leadership group and said ‘Aker’s gotta go’.
“Chris Scott of all people, I didn’t have a great relationship with Chris and he can be many things, but on this occasion he said ‘I don’t know Leigh, I don’t think you should do that’.
“I got lucky in one way but sort of repaid it in full by having such a great year and going back and playing some great footy.”
The Lions’ rise was remarkable, as only 12 months earlier, they’d sunk back to the bottom of the table.
“1999 was huge,” Akermanis said.
“Leigh had come in at the end of 1998, we’d come last in 1998.
“It was a horrible club, very split, a lot of problems in the backroom, a lot of divisive fractions.
“When Leigh came, he brought in this great group off-field.
“The physios and doctors were the best you could find in Brisbane.
“That plus Leigh plus the defensive side, we had the talent, we just had crap coaching.
“What happened was Leigh straightened us all up and got the talent to perform.
“He took me from a half-forward/onballer to a back pocket where I could shut down players and run up the ground.
“At times he’d pinch hit me in the guts, that was a great introduction.”
The 1999 season was the foundation for the 2001 season, where Akermanis would claim the ultimate individual prize in the AFL, the Brownlow Medal.
“In 1999 I was our leading vote getter, that was my first year with blonde hair,” he said.
“I remember thinking man I’m getting some votes, and as long as I don’t upset umpires because they’re a rare breed, bit of control freaks and s***, I thought I’d have a chance.
“Early in the year in 2001 and I kicked a lot of goals in last quarters and running over the top of everyone, it was beautiful.
“When I got to the count, my back half of the year wasn’t as good, Andrew McLeod and guys like that were doing alright.
“When I won, you couldn’t see every game anyway as you didn’t really know some of the interstate teams and how they were going.
“Was I shocked? Not really.
“I thought I’d get a few votes, to win it was a dream come true in some ways, but you’d never admit it.”
Only a week later, Akermanis would claim the first of his three premiership medals at the Lions conquered the Bombers in the 2001 AFL Grand Final.
Yet, he said the Brownlow added significant extra pressure.
“I wasn’t really hitting the line hard, as you try and peak in September, it’s not an easy thing to do, I did 16 years of it and probably played 12 finals series,” he said.
“I tried every year to get it right, you can be unlucky but I hit that line I wasn’t as good as I was earlier in the year.
“The pressure, that’s what people don’t tell you about, I went from nothing to a Brownlow Medallist and then people saying they’re putting money on me to win the Norm Smith Medal, that’s pressure.
“I don’t know how Dusty did it in 2017.
“It was hard but fun.”
Only 12 months later, the star Lion would kick the winning goal for the Lions as they knocked off Collingwood in the 2002 decider.
Yet, he was carrying an injury.
“That was so painful,” he recalled.
“I went down to pick up the ball early in the game, hit the post twice.
“It was utopia for me, wet weather footy and you go to any wet weather game I played, even with those goals at Geelong, it was nearly always three votes.
“Then you get to the grand final and finally one in those conditions that are perfect for me.
“It was very frustrating to pull the right adductor muscle half off the bone.
“I still got 15 touches, did some good things and kicked the winning goal.
“But if it wasn’t for my first coach who taught me how to kick left and right foot…”
The Lions would again defeat the Magpies in 2003, but it was the 2004 Grand Final which would leave a sour taste in Akermanis’ mouth.
“The 2002 home and away season was the best one of the four as far of the best grand finals,” he said.
“2003 was the opposite, we were beaten up at the start of the finals.
“They’re all a bit different, even the one we lost in 2004 which was a complete hatchet job from the AFL.
“Andrew Demetriou who did it, will never say anything…Leigh confronted him over it and we hate him for it.
“Port Adelaide fans love him for it, but we were still in front at half-time.
“As Leigh said, on the history books they were the better side on the day, but it was hard to swallow.”