Brisbane Lions 2016 Review: One step forward, ten steps back

As the final siren sounded at Etihad Stadium it ended what can only be described as a season where the Lions went one step forward and 10 steps back. Less than 24 hours later Bob Sharpless and Greg Swann announced what everyone was predicting, that Justin Leppitsch would no longer be coach of the Brisbane Lions. The club is more than 10 million dollars in debt, crowds are at their lowest and many describe the facilities the players have to train and rehabilitate in the worst in the AFL. There are dark clouds surrounding the club as some commentators now say that the Brisbane Lions are in as bad a position as what the Fitzroy Lions were when they were forced to amalgamate with the then Brisbane Bears. So where has it all gone wrong?

 

The year did not start well with the forced retirement of up and coming defender Justin Clarke due to a bad head knock in pre-season training causing him to suffer concussion symptoms that lasted weeks to months. It was not long into the season until more injuries occurred to key players such as Dayne Beams, Allen Christensen and Tom Bell. This together with a horror draw to start with (where the Lions lost 12 games in a row) and by Round 16 the Lions had won only one game.

 

Leppitsch’s game plan (if you could call the Brisbane Lions having a game plan) was to be offensive and attacking. What that game plan produced was something where their defence had more holes in it than a sieve, with the Lions leaking on average 130 points a game. Many contributed this to the very young and inexperienced backline but a better explanation would be that the Lions constantly turned over the ball due to poor basic skills and much indecision when trying to run the ball out of defence.

 

A major disappointment this year was that many of the senior and middle tier players did not take the next step up. Pearce Hanley was quiet for most of the year and really struggled. Stefan Martin’s form was much lower than that of last year but that may have been because he spent most of the year recovering from the bump Steven May gave him in the middle of the Gabba that knocked him well and truly into the next week. Daniel Rich played well in patches but showed that he does not have the mental capabilities to break a tag and even though Tom Rockcliff quite often accumulated high numbers of possessions the impact he has with those possessions is often quite minimal. As for his ability to captain a team – well the jury is still out on that one. The only senior players that could hold the heads up high were Dayne Zorko and Mitch Robinson.

 

If there were any rays of hope that came from the season it was that many of the young players were given time to shine and showed some real potential. There were nine players that played their first games of AFL during the season. Harris Andrews continued to show why he will be a prominent backman of the competition in the coming years and Tom Cutler has the potential to be a quality running defender. Josh Schache and Eric Hipwood could form a formidable pairing as twin towers in the forward line, maybe becoming the next Jonathan Brown and Alistair Lynch who played an important part in the Lions glory days. Ben Keays showed that he has tenacity and a real hunger for the ball but the two surprise packets for me were Rhys Mathieson and Archie Smith. With a leap like Archie’s (who comes from a basketball background) and a few years to build up his aerobic capacity I have no doubt he could be a premium ruckman in the competition. As for Rhys, I just love the way he goes about it. He has that mongrel in him where he will not back down to anyone (love the way he gave it to Joel Selwood) and will become an important part of the Lions midfield in the future. The ability to retain the young brigade of the Lions will be the key to any chance of the Lions having success in the future.

 

As the sun was setting on another Lions season it was time to say farewell to big Daniel ‘Sauce’ Merrett after he reached the milestone of 200 games. Merrett has not seen too much success during his playing days at the Lions but has been an important part of the team over the last decade. Starting off as a forward before becoming the pillar of the Lions’ backline, Merrett’s enigmatic persona has made him a favourite with the fans. The excitement of seeing him spoil a ball with a 30m punch or making a hug bump on an opposition player was mixed with the frustration of him giving away silly frees or making a silly mistake allowing the opposition to score a goal. He, with his balding red locks and rusty looking beard will be sadly missed.

 

So where to now for the Lions? A team that was a gigantic force in the early 2000s is now according to many people an absolute rabble. A new coach needs to be found, maybe a new captain has to be selected and definitely better training facilities have to be sought. There are possibly issues at the board level and the football department needs to be critically looked at. I am a proud and faithful supporter of the Lions but even I am not sure what the future holds at the moment and this is a worrying view held by many loyal fans. I have no doubt that the Brisbane Lions football club is an important part of the AFL landscape, but something seriously needs to be done by both the AFL and Brisbane Lions to help turn around what seems to be a place of despair and disparity.

 

All I can hope for is that when I write this review at the end of the 2017 season it is about hope, rather than the gloom and negativity that has quite often surrounded the Lions this year.

About Andrew Weiss

Andrew is one of the few Brisbane Lions supporters that lives in the Adelaide Hills. He still has bragging rights over any Crows or Port supporter by mentioning the back to back to back premierships the Lions achieved in 2001-2003. After playing for over a decade for the mighty Adelaide Lutheran Football Club better known as 'The Doggies' he now spends his Saturdays running around footy ovals as an umpire, getting abuse no matter what decision is made. Coaching is probably next on the agenda as his two sons have started to play the great game of AFL. Andrew is a sports fanatic who when not watching or reading about sport is teaching secondary students about Biology, Nutrition and Psychology.

Comments

  1. Peter Schumacher says:

    A fair summary Andrew, one can only hope that a new coach, plus a year’s experience for our tribe of younger players, will turn things around next year. I recently purchased a 79 inch TV with particular reference to viewing the AFL but regrettably it only makes the Lions look worse.

  2. Dave Brown says:

    Good summary, Andrew. I think facilities are the key issue – until they get sorted the rest is unlikely to follow. It’s unfortunate that Brisbane of the last 10 years appears to have fallen victim to managerial conflicts of interest in that regard. Also, don’t see things as grim as Fitzroy. As they neared the end their average home crowds were 10-11k. Even with a shocking year Brisbane still managed 17k with a much larger upside when the good times return. I really like Harris Andrews as a player.

  3. The key issue is the failure to recruit players over the last ten years. People look at the Fev decision but that decision meant we did not give Bradshaw a contract. He got three years from the Swans and played about 5 games.

    Toe examples

    Xavier Clarke and Beau MacDonald were given years on the list and rarely (Clarke never) played a game. Non Brisbane supporters will not remember that MacDonald retired the week before the season started.

    I have many other similar examples of players either injury racked or simply not up to it being kept for FAR too long

  4. Phil Tagell says:

    Andrew is on the mark as far as 2016 went. As for the future, may I suggest that the following are priorities :
    – List management, a new team committed to getting the best young talent available, no selecting any more third-rate duds
    – Footy Management, get Neil Balme or a similarly qualified performer
    – Head Coach and his Assistants, get the best available who are committed to what is required
    – Club Culture, Bob Sharpless and his committee have be totally united in their task to build a winning culture because there isn’t one there at the moment

    This will involve some hard work over a fair time but there is no alternative.

    Good luck boys.

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