The Brisbane Lions were far too good for the Demons, beating Melbourne at their own game, with a clearance domination we’ve not seen against this team in a long time.
And then the lights went out and everything seemed to change. With the lights off at the Gabba and a delay required before the game could be restarted, it was as though the restart reset the Demons and completely switched the Lions off.
As the game resumed, Melbourne looked ready to try to steal it, whilst the Lions looked ready to hit the showers and call it a night. The result was as you’d expect, with Melbourne suddenly able to find the footy with the regularity that avoided them before the arena was plunged into darkness.
Though the result was close in the end, Brisbane were a far better team over the course of the game, and had it not been for the interruption and restart, would have likely walked away with a several-goal win. Instead, they settled for an 11-point victory, but would be anything but pleased that they did not build on, or at least retain the sizeable margin they created.
It’s difficult to believe that a team boasting the likes of Christian Petracca, Clayton Oliver, and Jack Viney could be so comprehensively trounced around stoppages, but that’s exactly what occurred at the Gabba, with the Lions pulverising the Dees at stoppages.
Led by recruit, Josh Dunkley ( nine clearances), their highly-touted draft pick, Will Ashcroft (nine) and perennial ball winner, Lachie Neale (8), Brisbane not only managed to get first hands on the footy, but were also able to shut the Melbourne prime movers out of the game.
With Max Gawn limping off in the first quarter after some friendly fire from Viney caused him a knee concern, the Dees looked lost. They had no marking presence, were being beaten at ground level, and lacked anything resembling a spark.
In contrast, the Lions were relentless in their pursuit of the footy, tackling better, winning possession better and really, just being all-around better.
Avoiding an 0-2 start, Brisbane righted the wrongs of Round One in emphatic fashion and now look to start building into their season, whilst Melbourne faces the daunting prospect of life without Max Gawn for a little while.
Let’s jump into The Mongrel’s Good, Bad, and Ugly.
THE OLD FELLA OFF HALF FORWARD
So many people dislike Dayne Zorko. I can kind of understand why – he caan come across at times as a bit of a dick on the field at times, but when I take a step back and watch him go about his footy, I have come to the conclusion that he simply gives as good as he gets, and yes, that goes back when these teams met in 2022 and we had the teary episode between him and Harrison Petty.
But one thing people cannot fault is the way Zorko applies himself on the field. He is an intelligent footballer (who sometimes acts in a dumb way) and can work himself into the middle of the ground quickly and effectively, irrespective of where he is starting.
Last season, we saw him working off half-back and using his laser-like kicking to carve teams up. In this game, he was starting at half-forward and immediately working into the middle to add another dimension to the Lions’ midfield unit.
Whilst he was not there to win the first touch in the middle (he did not attend one centre bounce), his hard run from half-forward allowed him to be the first release player on several occasions, enabling the Lions to set up their attack as Zorko received and either dished off to a player in a better position, or dropped the hammer, himself, and headed forward with the footy.
He finished the game with 22 touches and a couple of goals as if to send a reminder to opposition clubs that whilst their focus may be on others, to forget about him would be a critical error.
THE IRISH BLOKE
We’re friends here, right? We can share a secret… even if it is being proven wrong, can’t we? You won’t hold it against me? Nah… you’re not like that.
I thought Conor McKenna going to Brisbane was a huge error. I wondered what the Lions could possibly get from him considering they had Daniel Rich running around, and Keidean Coleman carving out a name for himself in defence.
However, coming out of this game, maybe I have been a bit turned around on McKenna, who looked completely at home and fully invested in his new club in this game.
McKenna was always one from the Adam Saad school of disposal – kick it as long as you can and as hard as you can and everything will be okay.
Except when it isn’t.
Saad has refined his game, and much to my surprise, so has McKenna, despite being out of the game for a while. He was lowering his eyes, hitting the right targets, and pushing right up to half forward to ensure he stayed involved in the play.
At one point, McKenna was the driving force behind a rugby-style scrum as both teams battled hard for possession. McKenna kept burrowing in, kept attacking the loose footy and anyone else in the vicinity. It impressed me, and I don’t impress easily, particularly when those trying to impress have been less than impressive in the past.
I was not a fan of McKenna wanting to go home and wanting out of Essendon, and when he came back to the game, there was a big part of me that thought he was simply back for the coin (Gaelic footy does not pay). However, watching him closely in this game, it would be difficult to find fault with the way he went about it. Solid work by foot, good run, and a commitment to the contest.
If he is able to keep his head screwed on straight, the Lions have found a diamond in the rough with this bloke, and they will be a force attacking from half-back with him, Rich, and Coleman (when he is back) ready to take off at a moment’s notice.
THE FILL IN
I really rate Adam Tomlinson as a defender.
There was a time I didn’t rate him much at all – he seemed to me to be some type of cyborg with a skin suit on, trying desperately to fit in but never really finding his position at GWS. I know what you are, Adam… you don’t need to hide it from me… cyborg freak.
Anyway, with Steven May being ruled out late due to a calf complaint, Tomlinson was recalled to the senior side to fill in, and what a stellar job he did!
Tomlinson was given the role of limiting Eric Hipwood, and I am really unsure that May could have done it any more effectively.
Hipwood finished with just seven touches for the game, but more importantly, did not hit the scoreboard at all. Tomlinson blanketed him in this one, and though May is obviously a key component of the entire structure, the fill in has at least given Simon Goodwin the opportunity to keep May on the sidelines until he is absolutely cherry ripe.
And if that takes a few weeks, then so be it – The Dees are well-equipped to cover.
THE NEW-LOOK MIDFIELD
What a difference 12 months makes.
This time last season, I was wondering where the help for Lachie Neale was going to come from. The Lions had Jarryd Lyons sitting in the midfield, and also possessed the burgeoning talents of Zac Bailey and Jarrod Berry to throw into the middle to do some grunt work.
Ultimately, however, it it was largely dependent on how good Lachie Neale could be. That no longer seems to be the case – things have had an abrupt change, with the arrival of both Josh Dunkley and Will Ashcroft.
Both guys starred in this win, with Dunkley doing the bulk of his work in the first half en route to 26 touches for the game. He had 15 touches through the first half, as he cracked in to win six of his nine clearances and weathered the storm for the Lions.
He was joined by the highly-touted Will Ashcroft, who had a ripping outing in game number two, compiling 31 disposals and nine clearances.
With these two in positions to support Lachie Neale as he starts to look the big 3-0 square in the face, the Lions have rejuvenated their on-ball division. Dunkley’s hardness at the footy and willingness to get his hands dirty are exactly the type of mongrel teams would love from their new arrivals, whilst Ashcroft has already been in an AFL family – he knows what is required and looks completely ready to deliver.
Both these blokes sense opportunity to make this team soar in 2023. I guess now we wait and see whether or not they can deliver consistently.
ONE TOUCH LIONS VERSUS THE DOUBLE-GRAB DEES
This one stood out to me like a part of a dog’s anatomy that is private and should not be spoken about unless you’re telling the dog to stop licking himself down there.
Every time the Lions moved the ball quickly, it was done so with precise kicking and most importantly, the receiving player gloved the footy with one grab and was off to the races.
Melbourne… not so much.
I haven’t seen a Demons team bumble around the park like they did in this one in quite a while. It seemed as though every time there was an opportunity to go fast, something would come up to prevent it. A handball missing its mark, a disposal forcing a teammate to stop and prop to wait for it, or the receiver fumbling and forced to go back to correct the error.
In contrast, the Lions looked slick. Determined, focused, but definitely slick, as they moved the footy with apparent ease and without a case of the butterfingers. Look, they could have had the worse version – fingerbutts. Sounds unhygienic.
This contest felt as though the world was plotting against the Dees, and hell… maybe it was, but overall, the Lions were far too well-drilled and played with the mindset that if you do the little things well, they’ll grow into big things.
And it doesn’t get much bigger than knocking over one of the top premiership fancies whilst everyone else is questioning your own credentials.
In short, the Lions were clean as a whistle. The Dees looked like a team that were just a step late and a dollar short every time they attempted to move the ball fast.
And then, the lights went out.
Worse than the Montague Street bridge. That is how I’d describe Melbourne’s clearance work in this one.
For those not from Victoria, the Montague Street Bridge in South Melbourne is notorious for trucks becoming wedged under it, despite multiple warnings, strange tape across the road to warn drivers that they could get stuck, and signs all over the place stating the height limitations.
The Dees simply could not buy a meaningful clearance in the first half of the game, with the Lions all over them to the point I wondered a) whether Brodie Grundy’s taps were completely ineffective, and b) whether the Dees were just continually cocking up their stoppage setups.
It turns out that the Lions just worked harder and at points, the Dees stopped looking for that damaging front of clearance break and seemed to settle for bottling it in, hoping something… anything would change.
The final clearance difference saw the Lions +28 for the evening. That is absolutely ridiculous. That’s the type of differential you’d expect had the Lions been playing the Coffs Harbour Bedwetters – not a team that was elite in this category last season.
In the end, the Dees were lucky to be even 40 points down when the power went out. That margin flattered them, and if we look at the game in its entirety, 11 points is simply not representative of how much better Brisbane were on the night.
We heard lots of talk over the preseason about the lethal ruck combination of Max Gawn and Brodie Grundy and how they were set to terrorise the AFL this season.
The Dees will be sweating on scans of Gawn’s knee, after he went down hurt in the opening quarter. Jack Viney fell onto Gawn’s leg, tweaking something significantly enough to cause Gawn to miss the remainder of the game. This meant that Grundy was left to fend for himself, and whilst he did an admirable job, he was nowhere near the dominant big man on the ground.
Marking has never been Grundy’s strong suit, but when combined with Gawn, he was able to tag out to one whose overhead work was second to none. Grundy’s forte is at ground level – his second efforts and follow-up of his own tap work make him a threat in that regard, but he is not going to pull down big contested grabs on a regular basis. That is what made the pairing with Gawn so intriguing – they complemented each other’s skills well.
Now, with Gawn out, and expected to miss a little bit of time, we now find out whether the recruitment of Brodie Grundy was a masterstroke, or whether the Dees probably could have done without.
I’m gonna back the former – I reckon Grundy has a fair bit to prove now, and will go about doing just that as he assumes the number one role without the captain available.
Good to see Hugh McCluggage spending a bit of time on the wing in a throwback move from Chris Fagan. In 2022, Jarrod Berry spent a fair amount of time out wide, but he seems much more suited to playing inside than Clug, who relished the wide open spaces.
The two basically switched roles in this game to mixed results, but I reckon this is worth persevering with as the rewards could be huge. Berry likes the tough stuff. Clug likes the space. Seems like a no brainer to me.
I had the feeling that Jake Lever was going to explode into a rich vein of form this season and recapture his 2021 status as the best intercept player in the game.
I did, however, think that he would be doing so with Steven May, Harrison Petty and Christian Salem to lean on. In this one, however, Lever was forced to anchor the defence almost by himself. Sure, the Dees brought in Adam Tomlinson, who has played well thus far, but it has been the intercept work of the General of the Defence, Jake Lever, that has held the Melbourne defence to anywhere near the level they were a couple of seasons ago.
I’m not sure how much to take away from the last 15 minutes after the restart. In a way, the Dees were attempting to polish a turd – the turd being the way they’d played up until that point of the game. Brisbane had obviously placed the cue in the rack and were done for the evening, but as the Dees came storming back, people suddenly remembered they had a job to do and put the shutters up. It was enough to hold the Dees off, but man… the Lions almost broke a cardinal rule.
You know the rules, right?
Never hit on a mate’s partner
Never try to take over a mate’s BBQ
Never forget that the older you get, the better you were
And never, ever take your foot off someone’s throat when there is the chance they’ll jump up and shank you. Play to the damn siren.
The Lions were very close to being shanked after the restart, and had they lost, they would have had nobody to blame but themselves.
Heard a few comments about Jack Gunston’s game, stating they expect more from him. Interesting to see Chris Fagan throw him behind the footy when things started getting hairy after the restart. I reckon Jack is too or three weeks away from having the type of game that will make people sit up and take notice. He was almost there this week but some of his kicking let him down. That won’t remain the case – he is too good to remain a small part player in the story of the 2023 Lions.
And that might just do me. I’d like to say it was a great win for the Lions, and it was on track to be just that. The last fifteen minutes of game time took the shine off what should have been a wonderful, inspiring victory. Still, four points at this early stage of the season are invaluable, and Brisbane have now banked their first win of the year.
I expect many more.