AFL Finals With or without Lachie Neale, Brisbane Lions’ premier window is still wide open

AND THEN THAT was done.

Just like that, the third consecutive year of Brisbane’s long-awaited return to the football final has come to an end. A rushed behind in the last minute, delivering the Lions to the most heartbreaking semi-final loss. “Bulldogs through and through,” yelling at a packed and mostly despondent Gabba. Chris Fagan seems to prefer being somewhere else. Charlie Cameron looks skyward for consolation, after a promising personal start has dissipated into a missed opportunity.

Another season of such promises came when it mattered most, and inevitable questions arose as a result. Why do the Lions develop such a talent for disappointment in the final? How could they waste yet another top four? Is that Prime Minister’s window now closed, a fact underscored by the still uncertain future of Brownlow star Lachie Neale? Do we need to talk about Chris Fagan and his 5-1 record in the final since 2019?

There is so much to unpack.

Before the Lions are penned in the relative darkness of the offseason, it’s worth seeing the outcome – and the season before it – from a different perspective. Because although any exit from the Finals is a bitter pill to swallow, Brisbane is approaching two decades since its previous flag, constantly knocking on the door but failing. Yet it is an accomplishment that deserves to be commended.

So, with 2021 over and dusted off, ESPN presents a bulletin that breaks down Lions’ efforts, while providing evidence that the season’s production shouldn’t be seen as a complete failure.

Early crackles and late roars

A 1-3 start through 2021 made some of the loyal Lions think the 2020 prelims were just a mockery. But in their fifth season under Fagan – and cultivating a high-energy, pressure-based forward rolling game – the Lions have recovered impressively. They had a sensational purple spot in the middle of the year (thriving without Neale at various stages), but then endured a few late hiccups, before snatching up a top-four spot in a suitably final victory. decisive against the west coast.

Overall, injuries to some key staff – mainly Eric Hipwood and Dan McStay – caught up to the front line and played a role in Brisbane’s inability to dance with Melbourne’s minor prime ministers in the premiere. week of finals.

But these Lions can dance

Much of the talk around Brisbane’s defeat in the Week 1 Final and the following Week 2 exit focused on the fact that they just weren’t able to match it with the real ones. heavyweights of the competition. It was a topic highlighted in the run-up to the final, with the general narrative pointing out that late-season success against teams outside of the top-eight would count for nothing against the big guns. And that’s what turned out against Melbourne; the 33-point pounding at Adelaide Oval prompting cries of “I told you so” from observers.

While exciting and irresistible when hot, Lions apparently just didn’t have the cattle to really be considered contenders. Yet when Hipwood and McStay were in good shape and played alongside Joe Daniher, the Lions were reminiscent of a finely tuned race car; move the ball quickly and accurately, and generally prove to be very difficult to follow. The trio have helped Brisbane to 10 wins out of the 11 games they have played together. Among the victims were Geelong and Port Adelaide, both of whom succumbed heavily to this great, avant-garde inspired cartel.

Without Hipwood, McStay or both, the record slipped to 5-8. In fact, after Hipwood’s disastrous fall in the 17th round, the Lions collapsed on a three-game losing streak. Needless to say, the 13 games he and McStay played together were a big part of the entire campaign.

Bottom Line: Keep these guys on the pitch, and Lions can surely dance with anyone, anytime, and on any dance floor.

Watch out for the wounded lion

For the first time in his tenure in Brisbane, and unlike 2020, Fagan has been forced to reorganize his team on several occasions. An overabundance of premature injuries created inevitable difficulties with the combinations, consistency and (essentially) form of those players who are actually able to recover from their various problems. Hipwood and McStay’s previously mentioned misadventures aside, Cam Rayner’s entire season was wiped out by an ACL in March. It was a particularly big blow to Fagan’s plans – having intended to use the 2017 No.1 pick as the cornerstone of a midfielder loaded with speed and power.

In addition, Jarrod Berry was absent for three months, Darcy Gardiner three and a half months; while the talismanic Neale was sidelined for seven weeks. And it does not stop there. Ryan Lester and James Madden spent time out of the park, Noah Answerth and Marcus Adams increased Gardiner’s loss by leaving an even bigger hole in Fagan’s defensive setup. Doom and gloom in any language, and that’s before you factor in the issue of returning players taking more time to rediscover form and fitness.

But there is no denying that injuries are an integral part of professional sport and therefore cannot really be used as an excuse. The fact that the Lions were able to overcome that and even thrive – in the case of Neale winning the seven games he missed – is a massive endorsement of the depth and potential of this roster.

Conclusion: The injured brigade is back, those who replaced them have a season of performance behind them, 2022 is instantly shaping up to be brighter.

Square ankle moments

As mentioned, Rayner’s injury put a big plug in the vial of magic potion that Fagan wanted to pour alongside him this season. Among the rejigging that this involved was positional experimentation. Charlie Cameron was the one who spent time in the midfield, while Zac Bailey was used both in the middle and up front. Cameron eventually made his way full-time, as did the experience of midfielder Lincoln McCarthy.

Cohesion could certainly be described as lacking during some of these stints, and a clumsy midfielder could often be accused of losing defensive energy and losing the all-important pressure battle in the contest. It was a common theme in most of Brisbane’s losses. But some silver liners emerged as well, and promisingly, they did so in the form of youth.

Hugh McCluggage, 23, has recorded 25 eliminations per game and 28 assists for the year. A class winger, he spent a lot more time on the ball in Neale’s absence. As the stats above show, he handled it well. Keidean Coleman is another to have been exposed to less than familiar territory. A small forward for the entirety of his short senior career, the 21-year-old was pushed into the baseline by Fagan for Round 21 clash against the Dockers. Proving he was a capable defender and first-rate player on the ball during the 64-point triumph, Coleman didn’t look back.

Conclusion: more depth, more options, more potential to unlock the formula that brings this playgroup to the truly elite level.

will he stay, or will he go?

Neale’s future has hijacked the Brisbane exit narrative significantly this week. Proving the extent of the spam this news sparked, her father Robbie felt compelled to advocate for an end to the torrent of vitriol directed at Neale and his wife Jules, who understandably envision the best place to raise a family.

No amount of trolling is ever okay, but for those who abstain from littering and just worry about the prospect of a Lions without a Neale in 2022, this certainly isn’t the end of the road. for the current premier window. His departure would free up money to strengthen the ranks in a number of ways, and Fagan is more than shrewd enough to deduce how best to turn what many see as a disaster, an opportunity.

If he stays, Lions fans can look forward to two first-round picks for next season and the chance to add even more depth and talent to an already packed roster.

Conclusion: Lock up Lachie or let Lachie go. The Lions will most certainly last.

So there you go, Lions fans. 2022 is a new dawn, and it’s a safe bet that the challenges and disappointment of 2021 will further strengthen this young group of players. The crop of youth will no longer be raw, the injured brigade will add finesse, people like Daniher will be even more comfortable with his place and role on the team, while superstars like Cameron will hopefully be able to. the, spend the whole year doing what they do best. , in the most suitable position.

As for the inevitable questions surrounding Fagan and his final record, the prospect always helps. 2019 was the first try of Finals in a long period of time, 2020 they were a timid one-place victory for the Grand Final, and this year has been a false start against an endemic opponent, followed by heartache in it. which has been widely described as the game of the year. It might be worth giving this team another year or two before they permanently cancel their prospects in a final series, or even their merit as a heavyweight contender.

Conclusion: keep the faith.

About Joetta Becker

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