The hoodoo is broken, the streak is dead and the Brisbane Lions have moved into the Preliminary Final with a huge win over the team that has given them so many problems over the last… oh, ten or so years.

I’m being flippant, but this win by the Lions has to go down as one of the best and gutsiest in their history. It was blistering through the first half – possibly the best half of footy all season, and the kind of action that makes people fall in love with AFL Footy. Both teams were tough, uncompromising and meant business, but as the Tigers asked some serious questions of their own in the second quarter, the Lions, this time, were able to give them answers they did not like at all.

Young players stood up, those who have wilted under the immense Tiger pressure in the past refused to be intimidated again, and Harris Andrews lay waste to any kick that wasn’t well directed inside 50.

I’ve got plenty of questions of my own in this one and you know I am going to be diving as deep as I can before my hands start aching, so let’s get into The Mongrel’s Big Questions.

 

HAVE WE SEEN THE COMING OF AGE OF BRANDON STARCEVICH THIS SEASON?

I watch a fair bit of footy, and every time I see a Lions game, one player that continually impresses me is Brandon Starcevich. Oh, there are others in this Brisbane outfit – Noah Answerth, who was absent this evening, Zac Bailey plays like a veteran at 21, and Tom Fullarton showed a but earlier in the year.

But it is under the heat of finals intensity that you really see which players are going to stand up, and Brandon Starcevich did in this one.

We’re not going to see any big reports about his game – he is a defender first and foremost and the headlines are reserved for those who kick goals, but when a young man can knuckle down and play great defence on players like Jake Aarts and Jason Castagna, limiting their effect on on the contest, it renders the Richmond forward line weaker.

In a sec, I will cover the long ball to the top of the square that Richmond continued to use as their main avenue of attack all game. When that occurred, it was the work of players like Starcevich and Cal Ah Chee, who continually got back to the fall of the ball to clog things up and ensure nobody ran onto the spill and slotted an easy goal that made the Lions so tough to score against.

At 21, Starcevich has his best footy in front of him, but what we’re seeing now is very good as it is. With Birchall most likely done after this season, Starcevich is looking like a very handy player off half back for the Lions for the next ten or so years.

 

HOW MUCH DID THE TIGERS MISS TOM LYNCH?

Well, this question is multi-faceted, because it also leads us to talk about Harris Andrews and his profound influence on the contest.

Did someone forget to tell the Tiger mids that Lynch wasn’t playing? Because all evening they hoisted the ball long to the top of the square hoping for someone to take a big grab. Usually, that someone is Lynch, so either they did not appropriately adjust their game plan, or they mistakenly thought that Mabior Chol was going to be able to drag down some marks.

I’m going with Option B, and if that was the case, it was a stupid game plan.

When Tom Lynch plays, not only does he engage Harris Andrews and gives as good as he gets in their physical tussles, but he also negates the advantage the Lions get so often from their full back. Andrews is a complete and utter monster against the long ball to the top of the square. He killed 12 contests in this one and had another nine intercepts – 21 inside 50 balls were impacted by the presence of Harris Andrews.

And it was left to Mabior Chol to keep him busy?

Chol had two touches inside 50 all game whilst Andrews did as he pleased. Whether players were directed to go long too the top of the square or they took it on themselves, the fact the Tigers took one contested grab inside 50 all game, and just five contested grabs in total should tell you that this approach to scoring was doomed to fail.

So, how much did they miss Lynch?

Immensely! With him in the team, the entire make up of their forward line, and the Brisbane response changes. Either adjust the game plan without him there, or get him back in the side as quickly as possible… even on one leg!

 

IT LOOKED LIKE ERIC HIPWOOD COULD TEAR THIS GAME APART, DIDN’T IT?

Yeah, I am posing this as a question, but really, it’s a statement.

In the preview I did for this game during the week, I pointed out Hipwood’s recent record against the Tigers – take a look; it is not all that impressive.

However, particularly early in this game, Hipwood attacked the footy with a ferocity I was yet to really see from him. It was a “sit up and take notice” start from Hipwood, who hit the packs hard, pulled in a couple of contested grabs and really had only one area where he let himself down – the scoreboard.

That said, Hipwood’s clean hands gave him an edge of Noah Balta, who many have proclaimed as the second coming of Alex Rance. It was Hipwood’s wonderful take of the bouncing ball and quick hands to Cam Rayner that set up the latter’s long goal when the Tigers were really pressuring in the second quarter, and if this performance was an indicator as to the direction Hipwood is heading, the Lions would be rapt.

I remember 18 or so months ago, there was all this publicity for Charlie Curnow and what he was going to become. At the time, I compared him and Hipwood and the differences between them were not significant. Of course, there were no articles about Hipwood.

Now, only one of them is kicking on whilst the other sits out. I know which horse I’d like to be on right about now.

 

WHERE’D DUSTY GO?

I know this won’t be popular – the truth rarely is.

Dustin Martin went missing in the second half of this final.

At half time, I was sitting there, taking notes and watching a few things back from the first half, and Martin looked like he could have been the decisive factor in this contest. At that stage, he’d sent the Tigers inside 50 six times off his own boot and he’d picked up two direct goal assists as well.

And then… not much seemed to happen after that. He ran at just 44% efficiency, which you’d usually live with because the good is very, very good and outweighs the ordinary, but there were a lot of hack kicks from the finals specialist in this one, and it was the kind of performance that we’re not used to seeing from him in big games.

I commented to a few of the other Mongrels that he usually finishes games really strongly, but I was wrong. He faded like me at a party after 10.30pm.

 

WHY IS IT THAT ONE SCORE REVIEW LOOKS GREAT AND THE OTHER LOOKS LIKE IT WAS SHOT ON A CAMCORDER?

Oh, this is a huge talking point.

The “goal” to Shai Bolton, which would have just about redeemed some of his shockingly poor play throughout the contest, looked like it was shot with the highest quality film available. You could see two micro-organisms copulating on the goalpost if you look carefully enough at that footage. They had the ARC working well, the AFL Edge technology showing us “a clear spike…” and all was well with the world.

The review was great!

But at the other end, that really wasn’t the case, was it?

Nick Vlastuin was adamant that he’d got a hand on the snap from Hugh McCluggage that put the Lions up by what turned out to be a match winning margin, but the footage used to view it appeared more likely to be used on a Crimestoppers broadcast.

Fitting, I suppose, as a couple of Tiger faithful have messaged me stating they were robbed.

Before I go on, I understand fully that the tech was engaged to have clear goal-line decisions and the “touched off the boot” kind of decisions were thrown into the mix without really thinking about it, but when we’re playing for sheep stations, you can definitely understand why some Richmond fans would be pissed off that there is such a vast divide between the way some things are reviewed compared to the others.

In a close contest, things like this matter greatly, and with our game beamed around the world to countries and people used to seeing cutting edge vision to review their games, we get grainy, inconclusive footage in one instance and perfect slo-mo in the other. It just seems weird to me.

 

HOW GOOD HAS DANIEL RICH’S LAST MONTH OR SO BEEN?

He has been ridiculously good.

With Harris Andrews absent, Rich elevated his game and showed no signs of slowing down in this one. His past four outings have seen him average 22 touches, 5.5 rebound fifties and 8.8 intercepts. He has been playing like a man that senses opportunity, and with the Lions vaulting into a Preliminary Final, I expect him to come out of the gates in two weeks like a ravenous… well, I was going to say dog, but a ravenous lion is probably more apt.

Rich is one of the good guys – he has seen so many bad times in Brisbane that you cannot help but feel happy for him experiencing these good times. And these times have been very good – Rich is loving the run forward to slot goals for distance and after kicking two in Round 18 against the Blues, he could have matched it if not for the rather pedantic rule of not being able to run through the mark to receive a handball. I mean, why not? The opponent can follow you – what’s the problem?

Anyway, Rich is in stellar form and with the Lions gathering momentum, he could be about to make all those hard seasons he endured seem like they were worth it.

 

IS THAT THE LAST WE SEE OF MARLION PICKETT?

On tonight’s performance, I would not be at all surprised if we see Josh Caddy push his way into this team and Marlion Pickett gets used to watching the Tigers for the rest of the season.

Yes, yes… Pickett is a fairy tale and all that. Yes, yes… I know it is a great story, even now 12+ months after his debut, but after a first quarter flurry, he went completely missing in this one, picking up six touches after quarter time. Just three of them were effective.

Now that sort of output is kind of acceptable if you’re stuck in a forward pocket and not getting the supply, but Pickett is playing on the wing. He is supposed to be the supply and really… he’s playing like he’s getting high on his own supply. Sorry… went all Tony Montana there for a second.

The Tigers had a few players down in this game, but the form of Pickett is a real worry. With Caddy, you get a bloke who can sneak forward and hit the scoreboard. With Pickett… I’m not sure what you’re getting, but I know what you didn’t get in this game.

And that is much of anything remotely resembling quality.

 

HOW DO WE RATE THE GAME OF CAM RAYNER?

I’ve whacked Rayner a few times over the season, or even over the past two seasons as there have definitely been times where he has done bugger all for long stretches of time.

But that’s not the case tonight. Not by a long shot.

You see, Rayner may have finished with the modest stats of five touches, zero marks and a goal, but you have to consider who he was playing on and what that player usually means to the Tigers.

The numbers will say that Nick Vlastuin had a very good outing tonight, and I am not going to argue that, but did he have the same impact he usually has? Did he fly across packs and take intercept grabs like he normally does?

No, he certainly did not.

Of course, you could peruse the stats and point to the fact that Vlastuin sat behind only Harris Andrews in terms of intercepts, with eight, but they were ground balls, sometimes picking at the corpse of contests his fellow defenders had impacted. He finished the game with just one mark – the lowest total he’s recorded since early in 2017.

The ball was a little slippery – it is Queensland, after all, but whilst others were taking marks, Rayner was able to contest with the Tiger half back to the point where Vlastuin had to keep a very close eye on him, and that detracted from the Richmond defence’s usually water-tight half back line.

So five touches for Rayner, but they were important ones – a goal for himself and a gorgeous give to Charlie Cameron to set him up for a goal as well – a decent night at the office.

Although, stats will tell you otherwise. Ignore them in this case – they don’t record that which Rayner was able to do, and his team were better off for his efforts.

 

CAN YOU BELIEVE BRISBANE GOT JARRYD LYONS FOR NOTHING?

What would a team pay for him now?

I thought he was spectacularly good in this one. Won the hard footy, played a four quarter game, was the Lions; best clearance player and matched the intensity of Cotchin/Martin at stoppages.

If I was looking for a best player on the park, I would have to strongly consider Lyons, and I would have him above one I have had others mention to me in the post-game, Hugh McCluggage.

I found that Clug tried to do a few little dinky things in the first half – finesse plays that just weren’t gonna fly in this type of game, whereas Lyons had his head over the footy, winning it and using it well in close. McCluggage improved markedly after half time, but Lyons was doing it all day long. Throw Rich, Oscar and Andrews in and you have quite a quintet to choose from.

 

WHY WAS DYLAN GRIMES NOT WEARING CHARLIE CAMERON LIKE A SUIT?

Hmmm, I think there’ll be a few people asking this question.

After taking the big job against Cameron last season, and winning comprehensively on both occasions, I really don’t know why Damien Hardwick opted not to give Grimes sole responsibility for minding the elusive small forward. Not to cast aspersions on the decision making of Hardwick, but this one strikes me as extremely strange.

Playing against a side like the Lions, who have really struggled to convert scoring opportunities against the Tigers recently, the luxury of having someone to lock down their most potent scorer is something most coaches would relish.

Yet Hardwick allowed Grimes to play a role that… was far less impactful.

Meanwhile, Charlie hit the packs, laid tackles and ran around the Gabba with Jayden Short tailing him for long periods, and actually got himself into the game.

Putting it out there – big mistake by Hardwick.

Earlier this season, when the Lions and Tigers tangled for the first time since Richmond knocked Brisbane over in back-to-back games, Grimes wasn’t given the job on Cameron either. At the time, I thought this was good coaching – not falling into giving Chris Fagan and Cameron what they wanted; a chance at redemption. However, opting not to utilise a weapon like Grimes on the opposition’s most dangerous forward in a game of this magnitude… well, I’m sorry, but I just don’t think it was too bright.

I’ll get onto where the Tigers go next and how I think they’ll fare, but in a month from now when we’re looking back at this season, I would hate to think that a touch of coaching arrogance cost Richmond a chance at securing a dynasty.

I guess we’ll soon see.

 

 

IS THE BIG O THE FUTURE OF THE BRISBANE RUCK DIVISION?

Hell yeah, he is! He is also the present going on tonight’s performance.

There was a period in the last quarter where Toby Nankervis started making Stef Martin look like a tired 33 year old bloke. Ahhhh, to be 33 again…

But with Nankervis on top, the Tigers looked as though they could really make a run at the Lions from stoppages, including a couple of handball chains from half back starting with Nankervis winning in the ruck. The switch of McInerney back into the middle was a great move in the last, negating the Nankervis ruck advantage.

The Big O was huge in this game. His tackling was a feature – he had seven, which placed him behind only the Richmond tackling machine, Jack Graham amongst all players, and his tank is much better than I thought going into this season.

Last year, we mainly saw McInerney as a pinch-hitting ruck, spending the majority of his time up forward, but the second half of 2020 has seen him become a real threat both running forward and around the ground in general.

Those seven tackles matched a career-high for McInerney and he is really starting to look like a top-level AFL big man. At 26, he is a bit of a late bloomer, but with Stef Martin not at his best, the emergence of the Big O as not just an option, but the preferred option gives this Brisbane side a different, more potent look.

 

WERE THERE SOME MOMENTS THAT WON’T GET AIR TIME THAT SHOULD BE ACKNOWLEDGED?

Oh, I have a few for you.

Brandon Starcevich’s intercept mark in the last quarter as the Tigers attempted to go inboard was huge.

Darcy Gardiner deciding to take Dustin Martin out of the contest with a hip and shoulder as both ran for the footy across the Tigers’ half forward line. Why no one does this more often, I’ll never know.

David Astbury’s last gasp tackle on Keidean Coleman in the dying stages of the third quarter.

The Big O’s multiple holding the ball decisions against Trent Cotchin and Shai Bolton.

Callum Ah Chee’s chase down tackle on Daniel Rioli to cause a turnover in the last quarter was perhaps the best moment of his career to date. Missed by most of the commentary tam, it took Daisy Pearce to point out how bloody magnificent that effort was and what a difference it made to Brisbane.

It took away a potential Richmond inside 50 and sent the Lions back the other way, with Jarrod Berry marking inside 50 for a shot at goal (which he missed…. Booo!). Ah Chee saw his opponent kick two telling goals, but that action, running Rioli down and impacting the kick would have won him a few fans on the Brisbane coaching panel.

Dayne Zorko’s tackle on Dion Prestia early in the last was a ripper – stopped the returning Richmond onballer dead in his tracks.

 

WAS THAT SHAI BOLTON’S WORST GAME OF THE SEASON?

It certainly wasn’t his best, but looking at the stats sheet, you’d never know it.

Bolton finished with 17 touches, of which ten came in the contest. He had four clearances and five inside 50 disposals as well – not a bad night, right?

Wrong!

He gave away two 50 metre penalties, the second of which was followed up by an idiotic Marlion Pickett 50 that gifted a goal to Lachie Neale. He was hesitant, looked like he di not like the physical nature of the contest and really summed up his night in one play as the third quarter wound down.

With the ball bouncing around at half forward for the Lions, Bolton had the chance to go after it and put his body on the line. He opted to wait, which allowed Lachie Neale – a player who will absolutely never die wondering about the chance to secure a touch – to run through, take possession and dish to a teammate. Only a desperate, diving tackle from David Astbury saved the Tigers from paying a huge price as Keidean Coleman ran toward goal.

Bolton has been really good this season, but I thought he was exposed a little in this game. He had a couple of nice moments, but overall the poor outweighed the good by a significant margin. After such a great season, you’d expect him to bounce back next week, but when you’re playing midfield in a final, every moment matters.

Bolton had moments in this game, but in the end, they didn’t matter.

 

CAN THE TIGERS WIN THE HARD WAY?

They’re going to have to.

I had a Tiger mate message me after the game, telling me this was the loss they needed. Yeah, look… no one needs a loss in the finals, ever. Of course, this was the same bloke that told me before the game that what the Tigers needed tonight was a six goal win to make a statement, so he flip flops like a dying fish on the bank.

Richmond are a quality outfit – that is an understatement. It took Brisbane’s absolute best to get past them and if anyone can do it the hard way, it’d be them. I fully expect them to handle the winner of the Dogs/Saints next week, but the Power in South Australia is a huge ask.

First things first, I know, but Richmond’s first half was as good as anything I’ve seen this season. The problem was, Brisbane’s was better.

They are still a contender, for sure, but this will have rattled their cage. The Lions did it in 03. The Hawks did it in 15. Are the Tigers next?

And no, Johnny… you didn’t need this loss. That’s the sort of thing dumb people say. If you’re going to message me, make sense!

 

ARE THE LIONS NOW FAVOURITES TO WIN IT ALL?

Quite possibly. I am not a betting man and don’t know the odds, but things have fallen into place brilliantly.

Know what I don’t want to hear? I don’t want t hear any of this shit about “Well, they should win because it’s all happening in their state”. That is the talk of losers; people looking for a reason that their club is not in the hunt. This premiership, irrespective of who wins, will be one of the hardest-earned I can remember.

Whether it is Brisbane or anyone else, this is a flag that will be long-remembered and I am really warming to the idea that the Grand Final should be rotated around a bit… as long as stadiums prove they can successfully accommodate it.

Anyway, this premiership has been labelled an “asterisk” premiership by those who would have rather seen the season cancelled (because that was smart….). No asterisk next to it as far as I am concerned. This year is a flag I would be proud for my club to win.

And the Lions are positioned beautifully.

 

And that’ll do me – two ripping finals down and hopefully, two more to go.

Was Johnny right? Was this the loss Richmond needed? Or is he a complete wanker clutching at straws?

We all know the answer. Pity he doesn’t.

 

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