A YEAR ago, Breanna Koenen was in the unenviable position of making a captain's speech after losing a NAB AFLW Grand Final.
She had taken over from premiership captain Emma Zielke earlier in the year and led Brisbane to a Grand Final in season seven but amid the distractions of venue uncertainty, heat, and Melbourne's ultimately irrepressible dream, the Lions got lost, falling to the Demons by four points.
This time, things were different. Koenen had found her leadership style: by example.
And that was on show in Sunday's Grand Final win. The win that didn't just make Koenen a premiership captain, but named Best on Ground.
Following in the footsteps of great Brisbane defenders Kate Lutkins and Shannon Campbell who have won the award previously, Koenen's willingness to play a variety of roles throughout the game was key to the Lions' second ever AFLW flag.
LIONS CLAIM SECOND FLAG Full match report and stats
"She's honestly heart and soul of this club," Campbell told AFL.com.au.
"She does exactly what you're expected as a leader and basically drags us along half the time. She puts us on her shoulders, and she just goes 'follow me, this is how you do it' and we get on and go for the ride."
North Melbourne had opted to bring one of its forwards up around the contest, leaving Koenen alone as the interceptor behind the play, a role that she executed beautifully across the opening half.
But the Lions' control of the ball in the back half had not allowed them to generate much damaging attack, instead focusing on repelling the Kangaroos' repeat forward 50 entries.
Brisbane's midfielders were struggling to get a handle on the footy at the source against star Roos trio Jasmine Garner, Ash Riddell and Mia King, and their efforts were further hurt by a knee injury to tough onballer Cathy Svarc.
By half-time, North Melbourne led the clearance count 22 to eight, including five to King and four to ruck Kim Rennie.
"But you have those sorts of days and you've just got to cope and readjust and throw different people in there to shore things up a little bit," Brisbane coach Craig Starcevich said post-game, pointing to Koenen beside him.
So after Koenen amassed 11 disposals and four rebound 50s in the first half, Starcevich called on his captain to turn the tide in the middle.
"Bre's had a good record against North this year… in being able to at least match people like Garner and Riddell in that part of the ground," Starcevich said.
While Koenen wasn't able to turn the tide based on pure clearance numbers, her physical presence around the contest was able to limit the Kangaroos' ability to effectively clear the ball and find space.
"We're not a big midfield. And so that's why, looking at Bre Koenen today, with Cathy hurting her knee a little bit, the first thing was getting Koenen in there and, and she was able to play on those bigger bodies," Brisbane midfield coach Daniel Webster said.
"We were well beaten in clearances, but I thought we did a good job to kind of nullify the effectiveness of what those were and just got to adapt to the situation."
It was the move that allowed Brisbane re-establish control of the game, and while scoring didn't ultimately break open until the final term, the Lions remained within touching distance for the first three quarters.
"She just steps up in big times. And that's what you want from your leaders," Campbell said.
Koenen's tireless efforts in both the backline and midfield were crucial to Brisbane's second premiership, but it was a sealing goal with two minutes left on the clock that topped off the day.
"She's phenomenal. She is a phenomenal athlete, but she's also a phenomenal human," Brisbane key forward Dakota Davidson said of her captain.
"She's the best human I have ever met, and such a great leader. And the way she carries herself as a professional athlete, she's truly someone I aspire to be like."