The Brisbane Lions can no longer claim to be an AFL team on the rise that will realistically challenge for a premiership in years to come.
The flag window for Chris Fagan’s team is wide open right now.
After a decade in the finals wilderness, successive top-two home-and-away finishes in 2019 and 2020 provided significant joy to long-suffering fans.
But expectations have readjusted and simply qualifying for the post-season is no longer enough.
While the Lions have taken some major steps quickly in four previous seasons under Fagan, it has been slow and steady at finals time.
A straight-sets exit in 2019 was followed up by a rousing drought-breaking victory over nemesis Richmond in last year’s qualifying final.
But that where is it ended, with Geelong proving too strong for a lacklustre Brisbane outfit in the preliminary final
The sobering 40-point defeat at the Gabba left the Lions with plenty to ponder as they missed out on a rematch against the Tigers in the decider.
Brisbane were the highest-scoring team in 2019, and second-best last year, but their forward line unravelled when it mattered.
Securing the prized signature of Joe Daniher will help, but can the former Essendon spearhead power the Lions to their first flag since 2003?
“(Former GWS forward) Jeremy Cameron might be the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle for Geelong, too,” Fagan said.
“I mean everyone’s trying to find their missing piece. We’ve been a team that’s been able to score really well over the last couple of years.
“We just think Joe will make our forward line a little bit more dangerous.”
What Daniher will do is take the heat off fellow tall forward Eric Hipwood, who has struggled with his set-shot kicking.
But with the departure of veteran big man Stefan Martin, the injury-plagued Daniher, who played just 15 games in his final three years with the Bombers, will be expected to shoulder some of the ruck duties.
Oscar McInerney is clearly the Lions’ No.1 ruckman, but Daniher, former basketballer Tom Fullarton and Daniel McStay will need to pitch in as teams readjust to full-length quarters and a 23-round season.
While the Lions have enjoyed a good run with injuries in recent times, they approach round one already with a major out.
Former No.1 draft pick Cameron Rayner has shown bursts of his enormous talent in the previous four seasons and seemed to destined to go to another level in 2021.
But he will have a year off after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in the Lions’ final practice match against Gold Coast.
Rayner’s absence creates an opportunity for other young Lions players to step up.
Harry Sharp, who is still in high school, appears to be a genuine chance to debut after impressing in the pre-season, while Blake Coleman has joined his exciting brother Keidean at the club.
Star midfielder Lachie Neale is coming off an all-conquering Brownlow Medal winning season, and the scary thing is he could go to another level.
Neale believed the AFL’s shorter quarters lessened his impact, but the former Fremantle star still managed to poll 31 votes from 17 games in last year’s Brownlow count.