Shannon Campbell celebrates a goal during the preliminary final between Brisbane and Geelong at Brighton Homes Arena on November 25, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

IT WAS the goal that epitomised Brisbane's season.  

Shannon Campbell's matchwinner in Saturday's prelim, the goal that put the Lions into a second consecutive Grand Final, exemplified a new era of the club. 

It was a season initially overshadowed by the loss of star names. Bidding goodbye to Emily Bates, Greta Bodey and Jesse Wardlaw threatened to be the tale of Brisbane's year. 

Expectation that to cover the holes left by the trio of former All-Australians and premiership players, the Lions would have to fall back into the chasing pack, have an off season and begin the hike to the peak once more. 

But with fewer than 10 minutes remaining in the knockout clash with Geelong, Brisbane was without leading goalkicker Dakota Davidson due to injury, leaving stalwart defender Campbell to switch into the forward line.  

The impressive mark and composed set-shot goal to follow was the result of a season of challenges, flexibility, and a fresh look at what the Lions could be. 


In the past Brisbane had played with an intimidating rigidity. Players generally locked away in their specialised positions, and rarely would someone be used as a utility covering multiple lines on a regular basis. Debuts were hard earned and handed out sparingly. 

This season, however, Brisbane debuted nine players. Seven who played their first AFLW game, and another two, Ellie Hampson and Jade Pregelj, who ran out for their first game in Lions colours. At nearly a third of the playing group, this is the most debutants at the club since 2020, when COVID's impact meant player availability was more sporadic. 

"They've all had a taste of it at some point and we've seen bits and pieces, but the ones that didn't play (against Geelong) are obviously not with our current group pushing anyone out. But through necessity we've always told them just be ready, make sure your attitude is right, you're ready physically and mentally to jump in if needed," coach Craig Starcevich said after Saturday's preliminary final win. 

Injecting new talent into the group was not the only part of the plan. Adding flexibility to the roles of some long-time Lions was also important. 

"(The changes did) open up a lot of opportunity for people to expand into a secondary role," Lions midfielder Cathy Svarc told


"To be honest, it has been great for the team as a whole. Just that resilience and understanding the game better when you've got to play different positions, or if you're just thrown in there, you're ready to just take on whatever is thrown your way." 

This is something that hasn't only come from off-season list changes, but last season's Grand Final loss. 

"The Grand Final last year, we'd sort of played the same way the whole year and then it was a bit of a hard game, it wasn't quite going the way that we wanted. It just seemed like we couldn't check that in that moment," Svarc said. 

"The difference is, we've been able to do that. And I think that everyone feels probably a little bit more capable in having different parts of their game that they can bring when they need to." 

Cathy Svarc in action during Brisbane's preliminary final against Geelong on November 25, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

Campbell's time spent forward throughout the season, captain Bre Koenen's willingness to move out of defence and into the midfield at times, Courtney Hodder's increasing midfield minutes and Lily Postlethwaite's reinvention as a dangerous mid-sized forward are all examples of this evolution at the Lions. 

"It's been an interesting year," Starcevich said.

"We've got four or five new ones in the team. Lily, who's back, had a full season, touch wood that continues. So just to find our best combo has been really hard. Obviously early in the year, we've thrown people around a fair bit, a few people miss for various reasons. We've still got Dee (Heslop) not able to play finals either. So yeah, just to have all of those little moves up the sleeve, just in case." 

Starcevich went on to say that flexibility, options up the sleeve, were not generated out of a want, rather a need. It was simply the only way to improve. 

Jennifer Dunne and Craig Starcevich celebrate during Brisbane's preliminary final against Geelong on November 25, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

That fresh challenge, while difficult at times, has been a positive experience for the most experienced coach in the AFLW. 

"The whole trial and error, the whole satisfaction of bringing in new people… there's so many great things about coaching this team, and it's a joy because you saw the grit there, and you've probably seen it the last month to be honest," Starcevich said. 

"Just their grit and fight to be able to hang in there and keep pushing to the finish line. That bit just makes us immensely proud." 

For young ruck Tahlia Hickie, overcoming such obstacles as a unit is indicative of who the Lions are. 

"I think it proves a huge part of who we are as a team and our culture, but I think it also shows the depth that we have now," Hickie said.  

Tahlia Hickie fires off a handball during the AFLW R3 match between Brisbane and Sydney at Brighton Homes Arena on September 17, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"People leaving gave some new girls a chance to come into the team and gave them an opportunity and gave girls a role to step up in certain lines this year. I think it proves we can stick together and overcome some barriers to make it back to where we are." 

Just what that ability to reinvent and rise to the challenges that have presented was plastered all over young midfielder Belle Dawes' face upon the final siren. 

(L-R) Cathy Svarc, Isabel Dawes and Shannon Campbell celebrate as the final siren sounds after the preliminary final between Brisbane and Geelong at Brighton Homes Arena on November 25, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

In tears on her knees, flanked by senior players Campbell and Svarc, the reality of what the club has achieved hit hard. 

"It's been a trying year in terms of having to try new things and grow and learn," Svarc said.  

"All that comes with mistakes and trying new things. I think people put everything into it and then to get the win in such a close game does mean so much… you could just see that pure emotion, what it does mean, to get to this point."