A decade to forget: A long time between finals drinks for Brisbane

The last ten years as a Brisbane fan have been nothing but pain and suffering.

The odd memorable win here and there doesn’t mask a period that has seen a once great club fall to irrelevancy.

Now, they’re back. Back to September, a month they once dominated, but in recent years has been reserved for holidays and Mad Mondays.

It’s only fitting we start this journey at Wet’n’Wild – the place where boom recruit Brendan Fevola was introduced as a Brisbane Lion.

Coming off a breakthrough finals campaign, the Lions were one of the hyped teams leading into the 2010 season and were buoyed by the recruitment of Fevola, Brent Staker, Matt Maguire, Amon Buchanan and Xavier Clarke. These inclusions, alongside club legends Simon Black, Luke Power and Jonathan Brown, were expected to elevate Brisbane further up the ladder having finished sixth in 2009.

The optimism was justified, and Michael Voss’ Lions put the competition on notice with a 4-0 record to start the season, including wins over the impressive Western Bulldogs and Carlton in front of a sold-out Gabba. Brown and Fevola were dominant in this stretch, combining for 26 goals, with the former polling eight votes in the Brownlow Medal.

Injuries struck and Brisbane lost their next five games to come crashing back to earth. Aside from a memorable Fevola-inspired victory over eventual premiers Collingwood, the rest of the season was a slog as the Lions lost ten of their last 12 matches to finish 13th.

The pain didn’t stop there for Brisbane fans, as best and fairest winner Michael Rischitelli walked out to join the Gold Coast Suns a year after being offered as trade bait alongside premiership hero Daniel Bradshaw.

The Fevola experiment ended spectacularly and he was sacked in February. Things only got worse for the Lions when the season rolled around, as Brown ran into Luke McPharlin’s knee in Round 1, sustaining a horrific facial injury.

Brisbane’s captain returned to a winless side in Round 9, leading them to a hard-fought win over the Kangaroos. Almost incomprehensibly, Brown broke his face again a few weeks later, this time crashing into Mitch Clark’s arm in a collision compared to that of a car crash.

Brisbane’s season petered out with just four wins, finishing ahead of only Port Adelaide and the Gold Coast Suns. This was the inaugural season for the AFL’s new toy, and they created history by beating the Lions in the first-ever Q Clash at the Gabba.

Gold Coast’s introduction not only hit Brisbane on the field but in the stands, as the average crowd attendance slipped from 29,908 to just 21,119. The Suns, however, did gift Brisbane a mature-aged QAFL star by the name of Dayne Zorko.

Another year, another head injury to Brown. This time it was a knee from Maguire during preseason training that felled the skipper and kept him out of the start of the regular season.

The Lions shocked the Demons straight out of the gates but it was another sad start to the year, only adding wins over easy beats Gold Coast and GWS in the opening nine rounds and losing several matches by more than 50.

A stirring win over West Coast, courtesy of a last-gasp James Polkinghorne torpedo, proved the highlight of the season, but to their credit Brisbane finished the year strongly.

The Lions won their last three against Adelaide, Port Adelaide (away) and the Western Bulldogs to finish 13th (10-12) and generate momentum heading into 2013. Reliable defender Joel Patfull won the first of his back-to-back Merrett-Murray Medals.

Ten years on from the three-peat, Brisbane finally added to their trophy cabinet by winning the highly sought-after NAB Cup. This, combined with the aforementioned flurry of wins to finish the 2012 season, saw the Lions emerge as a bolter heading into 2013, led by the three Rs: Redden, Rockliff and Rich.

However, all optimism was quickly dashed in Round 1 when the Dogs ambushed Brisbane to the tune of 12 goals. The Lions never recovered and crawled to the mid-season mark with a poor 3-8 record. They did, however, produce one of their most famous victories in Round 13 when they fought back from a 52-point deficit in the third term to beat Geelong at the Gabba courtesy of Ash McGrath’s buzzer-beater from outside 50.

Affectionately referred to as the Miracle on Grass, it wasn’t enough to save coach Michael Voss, who was sacked a few weeks later. The call to boot Voss was supposed to, at least in the eyes of Brisbane’s administration, give the club a shot at luring Fitzroy legend Paul Roos to the Gabba, but he eventually signed with Melbourne.

Brisbane, coached by Mark Harvey, went into the last round of the home-and-away season with an outside shot of a finals berth, thanks to penalties imposed on Essendon due to the supplements scandal, but fell short by one Carlton victory, and a Ryan Lester snap.

The 12th-placed Lions eventually replaced one club champion with another, hiring Justin Leppitsch as senior coach. His first assignment? Navigate the infamous ‘Go Home Five’ – a mix of emerging and highly-rated youngsters to request trades. These players included Billy Longer, Sam Docherty, Jared Polec (first round picks), Elliot Yeo and Patrick Karnezis (selected in the second round).

For the fourth-straight season, the Lions started the season poorly, losing their opening five matches by an average margin of 47. Leppitsch eventually registered his maiden win as coach at the Lions’ historical fortress, Wellington, downing St Kilda by three points.

The losses continued to mount but in Round 13 Brisbane endured their toughest loss of all when a concussion against the Giants ended Brown’s glistening career. The Lions sent him off in style by downing North Melbourne in a heart-stopper as Leppitsch’s first year saw Brisbane finish 15th with seven wins. The biggest win, however, came in the form of Stefan Martin, who emerged as an elite ruckman following injuries to Matthew Leuenberger and Trent West.

During the player exchange period the Lions secured Dayne Beams and also cast a lifeline to a troubled Mitch Robinson. Tom Rockliff was named All Australian, and won his second club best and fairest, while first-year recruit Lewis Taylor claimed the NAB Rising Star. CEO Greg Swann, with a nudge from HQ, also joined the club.

After several years of discontent, members and fans finally got their wish and the controversial Paddlepop Lion jersey was ditched in favour of the traditional Fitzroy design. Outside of the Brisbane bubble this may not seem like a major issue, but it was a topic that riled supporters for it disrespected the history of Fitzroy. The return of the original lion was an important moment.

It was an otherwise forgetful season for Brisbane, who lost 18 of 22 and finished marginally above the lowly Blues on the ladder. With an average deficit of 48, it was a far cry from the respectable seven-win campaign of 2014. The Lions were able to muster a send-off victory for former captain Jed Adcock, who memorably booted four goals against the Bulldogs at the Gabba. In the off-season, former first-round draft pick James Aish requested a trade as Brisbane’s exodus of talent continued.

Rock bottom. It has been a dire decade between finals for Brisbane but it’s hard to find a more catastrophic season than this one.

The Lions finished just 0.6 per cent above Essendon, who basically fielded a VFL team for the entire year while dealing with player suspensions from the supplements saga. Their 2872 points against was the 11th worst in VFL/AFL history and their average losing margin was ten goals.

Leppitsch was subsequently sacked, despite signing a one-year extension prior to the season. The Lions also lost the cornerstone of their defence, as Justin Clarke, only 23, was forced to retire due to concussion.

The off-season brought about significant change for the Lions. Coach Chris Fagan was tasked with the toughest job in football, supported by David Noble, who crossed to Queensland as the general manager of football after holding a similar position at Adelaide. Between them they reshaped the football department, investing in support staff, development coaches and player welfare.

Despite claiming the wooden spoon and recording the lowest average attendance in club history, it felt like a year of progress for Brisbane. They got games into early draft picks Hugh McCluggage, Jarrod Berry and Alex Witherden while Zorko was named All Australian, to go with his third-straight Merrett-Murray Medal.

The Lions’ five-win campaign was highlighted by a shock come-from-behind victory over Essendon at Etihad Stadium, much to the delight of success-starved Victorian fans.

The feel-good vibe emanating from the club was somewhat stalled when first round draft pick Josh Schache returned to Victoria, while former captain Rockliff also departed. Brisbane, however, were able to lure Charles Cameron and a handy back-pocket from Hawthorn. Luke Hodge’s recruitment as an on-field coach would accelerate Fagan’s rebuild.

Brisbane didn’t improve on their 5-17 record from the previous year, but their progression was undeniable. Tellingly, the Lions lifted their percentage from 74.3 to 89.1 and lost five matches by less than ten points. A mid-season purple patch accounted for a three-peat of wins over Fremantle, Hawthorn and Carlton as Fagan’s rebuild entered its next phase. Be it 2019 or 2020, a return to finals football didn’t seem far away.

Skipper Beams stepped down from his role mid-season to concentrate on his mental well being, and eventually departed for Collingwood in the off-season. Brisbane were able to secure ball-winner Lachie Neale from Fremantle.

Originally published via TheRoar.com.au – https://www.theroar.com.au/2019/08/27/a-decade-to-forget-a-long-time-between-finals-drinks-for-brisbane/

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