The Brisbane Lions have been one of the most aggressive players in the trade period for the past four seasons.
Since landing Luke Hodge and Charlie Cameron in 2017, the snowball effect hasn’t seemed to stop, Chris Fagan and his football department keeping on rolling down the mountain that is the Gabba.
2018 was headlined by the biggest fish of them all, the Lions gaining the services of then two-time Doig Medallist and now Brownlow Medallist and dual All-Australian, Lachie Neale.
Lincoln McCarthy, Marcus Adams and Jarryd Lyons (recruited as a delisted free agent) only sweetened what was an excellent year at the trade table.
Callum Ah Chee was added in 2019, Cam Ellis-Yolmen and Grant Birchall rounding out the DFA bargain deals.
But it’s 2020 that may have changed the Lions the most of all.
Joe Daniher has had a significant impact on the dynamic of his new-found forward line, an area of the ground that was already functioning quite well despite accuracy woes.
Cameron has featured in the top 10 for goals two years in a row, kicking 88 goals across the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
Tall teammate Eric Hipwood has also cracked the top 20 for goals over the same period, further doing so in 2018.
The Lions were the highest scoring team in 2019 (averaging 91 points per game), and the third highest scoring team in 2020 (averaging 69 points per game).
So far in season 2021, they rank fourth highest. Most importantly though, they’re averaging 92 points per game, their highest under coach Chris Fagan.
Daniher’s influence has been felt after just 10 games in maroon, blue and gold.
Joe the team player
What Daniher adds to the Lions forward line, more than anything, is the threat of his presence.
Teammate and fellow tall forward Dan McStay spoke to Yarra Valley FM about how the addition of Daniher has changed his role from previous years.
“It’s almost freed me up a little bit [having Joe in],” McStay said.
“In previous years I was getting the best defender, and now I’m getting the second or third tall defender.
“For me it’s probably more about bringing the ball to ground, creating those contests, then making sure that when it does hit the ground my second and third efforts [are] making sure I’m tackling, putting the pressure on, creating opportunities for our small forwards.
“I feel like I’ve been able to do that in my first few weeks back.
“He’s [Daniher] such a superstar and such a great guy to have around the club.
“It kind of works in my favour a little bit, but when you’ve got a guy down there that really demands the ball, you’ve still got to try and find opportunities to hit the scoreboard and get into the game in other ways.”
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McStay’s increased output has flown under the radar.
His nine goal stretch is the most he’s kicked to start a season, also averaging career highs for both tackles and inside 50s.
Hipwood’s output has similarly gone up a notch.
The rangy tall is averaging his highest ever goals per game, currently kicking just over two goals a match, while also averaging career highs for disposals and marks.
He also sits 15th on the Coleman Medal tally, having kicked 21 goals in 10 games and leading Brisbane’s goalkicking, just two ahead of Cameron.
None of this is to say Daniher himself is slouching when it comes to playing in career best form.
He’s averaging well above his career average for a slew of statistics, including disposals, inside 50s, marks and metres gained.
The only knock on Daniher’s form in 2021 is his well-bemoaned goalkicking accuracy. He currently sits on a 53% accuracy rate, having kicked 17.15 in his 10 games so far.
So how has Daniher influenced the forwards surrounding him so greatly?
Looking at the heat map from the past three rounds, we can see how Chris Fagan has the three talls playing very different game styles and roles.
Here are Daniher’s possession maps from his past three matches:
While he is most at home on the half-forward flank, he has a number of possessions acquired up on the wing, out of the ruck contest, and occasionally in defensive 50.
Here are McStay’s, in comparison.
While he similarly enjoys time on the wing, his most dominant performances (including a four goal haul in round 10) come when he is positioned squarely in the forward 50, Daniher being one of the players driving the ball forward for him to win in a marking contest.
This is reflected in their individual stats, Daniher averaging more disposals (15.5), inside 50s (4.3), score involvements (6.5) and metres gained (397.2), while McStay averages more tackles (3.5) and pressure acts (10.3), spending more time at home
What Daniher primarily does to help the likes of Hipwood and McStay is to draw the best or second best defender up onto the flank and wing with him, too dangerous to let remain loose or take a bad match-up.
His long range kicking is then allowed to flourish, whether that be to a teammate or at the goals.
With the small brigade of McCarthy sitting at a healthy goal a game average, Zac Bailey just one goal away from his season best after a well-timed role change, and Charlie Cameron doing Charlie Cameron things, the three-pronged tall squad have silver service waiting at their feet.
All this is to say – underrate the Lions forwards at your expense.
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