Discounting Essendon last season, who had 12 players due to return from suspension this year, has their been a wooden spooner more confident of their future than the 2017 Brisbane Lions
Coach Chris Fagan seems to have brought a great sense of spirit to the club and the team played an exciting brand of risk taking attacking footy under him. Combined with a list is full young talent as evident in Hugh McCluggage, Alex Witherden and, the Rafa Nadal lookalike, Eric Hipwood all receiving Rising Star Nominations this year, it is easy to understand the sense of optimism in the Queensland capital.
In an extraordinary season personally, Dayne Zorko produced one of the best individual performances of the season in the Lions Round 18 victory over the Blues. Opposition Coach Brendon Bolton admitted his team had plans to try and curb Zorko’s impact, but those tasked with the role “just didn’t get the job completed … He had a fantastic first quarter, he really set the tone for them.” Zorko set the Gabba alight in the first half setting the tone for the Lions win and kicking three goals for the match to seal the deal.
Despite playing in a side that won just 6 games for the year, Zorko was able to finish 8th in the AFL Coaches Association Player of the Year Award and was rewarded with All-Australian honours. Kicking 34 goals he won the Lions Goal Kicking for the second time and it was no surprise when he won his third consecutive Merrett-Murray Medal, pipping Skipper Dayne Beams for the Lions Best & Fairest Award.
The highlight of the Lions season would be their Round 15 victory over Essendon at Etihad Stadium. Away from home and trailing by 27-points in the last quarter the Lions looked dead for all money but a 6 goals to one burst saw them overcome the finals bound Bombers. Zorko was the star helping himself to 30 touches and kicking three goals. Eric Hipwood, with four goals, and Rohan Bewick , with 3, were also prominent players in the Lions hard fought 8-point victory.
It would be easy to put too much importance on Brisbane last round loss to North Melbourne. It was a disappointing performance after the club had been so bullish during the week about winning the game and climbing off the bottom of the ladder. This season was never about the short term though and to focus too much on any particular result would be a disservice to the large strides the Lions took this year. Despite this defeat and the club claiming the wooden spoon, they have laid some strong foundations for the future. Brisbane’s 2017 season deserves a pass mark.
It was universal agreement on the panel on The Pinch Hitters with Boz and Pav, Sudi Chandrasekharan took time to praise the Lions Coach Chris Fagan. Having seen the Lions young guns develop with some of the older heads he sees good times ahead “If I was a Brisbane Lions supporter I’d be really excited too.” Chandrasekharan said.
Dan from The Sportress was a little less effusive, “They’re obviously a long way from being a contender, but they’ve made good progress.” While Pav from Pinch Hitters was gladdened by the Lions early efforts to lock up their developing stars. “My big tick is that the players that were leaving in droves in recent years that seems to have stopped” Pav said.
It is a long road back from the lower reaches of the AFL Ladder but the Lions began the journey with some of their decisions and actions in 2017. The combination of older heads like Dayne Beams and Zorko in the middle, young guns like Eric Hipwood and Josh Schache up forward, and an attacking game plan it will be a ride worth watching.
Check out The Pinch Hitters with Boz and Pav Podcast where the boys looked ahead to the finals and passed judgement on the Lions and all the teams that have already begun planning for 2018.