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Brisbane v Port Adelaide - The Young Lions Roar Back

For years, the Brisbane Lions have been drubbed, they have been belted and bashed and beaten from post to post.

But you can mark down the moment that the maroon, blue and gold rejected the lean years and fortified the Gabba. Indeed, you can mark the passage of seconds as Brisbane transcended their “easybeats” moniker and instead became something profoundly different, something very exciting.

There’s a smidgen over 11 minutes left in the third quarter, the Lions up by seven points. A high ball crosses the face of goal and dips into the pocket. Dan Houston, Oscar McInerney and Dougal Howard grapple by the boundary line. McInerney is a huge man and Houston has crossed to help Howard with the inevitable spoil. Tracking behind Houston is ex-Cat Lincoln McCarthy, a small forward with wasted years of injury left down south in Geelong.

Lincoln McCarthy leaps. He leaps with both knees into Houston’s upper back, elevates, gets that ‘second jump’ off the #43 on Houston’s jumper. He is high, high in the Brisbane sky, his fingers and hands splayed for an overhead grab but the ball and he are approaching each other far too rapidly.

He is flung at the football from Houston’s spine and the two collide. McCarthy has it cradled to the emblazoned Lion on his torso as he falls from the rafters, hitting green Gabba turf. There is an audible gasp of awe before the crowd, wholly, entirely, loses its shit.

Lincoln McCarthy leaps to his feet and walks down his line against the boundary. On his way there, he pats the belly of teammate Mitch Robinson. “Robbo,” once a mean-spirited hard-man from Carlton, has both hands pressed against his square, footballer’s head. He has jogged to the scene of McCarthy’s monstrous hanger with each awed hand glued to the side of his scone, mouth agape and mouthguard stark white, framed by tattooed arms.

It is an image that will endure long after McCarthy’s snapped conversion, long after Brisbane’s magnificent come-from-behind win over a dogged Port Adelaide, who led with only minutes left in the contest in hostile territory.

But a huge McInerney snare and goal, a downfield free-kick to Eric Hipwood and some Charlie Cameron brilliance saw Brisbane escape with an electrifying win over the once-undefeated Power.

Hipwood’s final goal was his sixth on a charmed night for the mercurial full-forward. He monstered Port Adelaide with a 5-goal first half, rag-dolling hapless defenders and bounding inside Brisbane’s forward 50 like a hyperactive Labrador. He ended with 10 marks (three contested), needing just 11 kicks on his way to a half-dozen.

On a day for hauls, Hipwood was nearly matched by impressive youngster Connor Rozee, the fifth pick in the 2018 draft snagging five goals and 21 possessions, the third-gamer nearly doing enough to drag Port Adelaide home off his own boot. 19-year-old Rozee (and thanks for Twitterer @sirswampthing for this remarkable stat) is the youngest Port Adelaide player to bag 5 or more goals, beating out the previous record holder – one Warren Tredrea – by 62 days.

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 Port Adelaide have done a remarkable job in rejuvenating their list, adding a talented undertone of youth to a squad that many pundits expected to tumble down to the basement of the ladder. But in the talented, goal-scoring, sublime Rozee and fellow youngsters Willem Drew, Xavier Duursma and Zak Butters, the Power have found themselves the next generation of teal-toned superstars. Hell, Butters’ application to AFL can’t be denied, the first-year midfielder sparking a fracas in the second quarter after colliding with Hugh McCluggage.

 The old hands didn’t give in, however. Ex-skipper Travis Boak (35 touches and a pair of goals) and the helmeted Paddy Ryder (24 hit-outs along with 3 goals straight) doing plenty to help out. Justin Westhoff, however, was quiet with just 15 touches and no goals, while Scott Lycett’s hot start to 2019 was dimmed somewhat, ending the game with 15 disposals and 15 hit-outs.

But Port Adelaide’s task was certainly unaided by a third quarter concussion dealt to ball-magnet Tom Rockliff, the ex-Lion left dazed after colliding with the elbow of McCluggage. Rockliff did not return for Port, leaving a returning Ollie Wines (quiet with just 19 possessions), Boak and a prolific Sam Powell-Pepper (29 disposals and 7 clearances) to engage with an impressive Brisbane midfield.

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By impressive, I mean outstanding. By midfield, I mean Lachie Neale.

The ex-Docker went from having a pretty good game, to dominating, to taking the absolute piss in a stat-stuffing romp. Leather poisoning does not aptly describe Neale’s ridiculous ball-winning ability as the new Lion gathered disposal after disposal, relishing any opportunity to nab the pigskin in any shape or form. 25 of Neale’s Herculean 43 disposals were contested while the semi-rabid midfielder had a frankly ridiculous 16 clearances (Dayne Zorko has the next-most for the Lions with 5), along with a crucial last-quarter goal.

Neale formed a trinity of sorts with Hipwood and defender Josh Walker (who took a game-high 16 marks), but their opponent refused to yield – the 2004 Grand Final replay proving to be superior to the 2018 incarnation. It took desperation and brilliance for the Lions to edge over the line in the death throes of a stupidly long final quarter.

For Brisbane, a trip to Melbourne to face an awakened Essendon side awaits next Saturday afternoon, whereas Port Adelaide return to Adelaide Oval to face a decimated Richmond outfit.

2004 saw the Lions and Power on the biggest stage of all in September. 2019 probably won’t – but the signs, for both sides, aren’t too bad at all.

 

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