HEROES are made and reputations are forged in preliminary finals, and no player did more to enhance his standing on Saturday night at the Gabba than 23-year-old Brisbane defender Keidean Coleman.
With his team five goals down late in the first quarter and staring down a third preliminary final loss in four years, Coleman – with his lethal left boot and attacking instincts – was the unlikely hero from half-back.
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He turned the game in a supreme second quarter, igniting the Lions' run from defence when they had been stagnant early, and continued to shine after the recovery mission was done and the game needed to be won.
It was his most significant performance as a Lion, and it came in the biggest match of a 63-game career that started in 2020, when the Lions made their first preliminary final under coach Chris Fagan.
Coleman had an equal game-high seven score involvements and a game-high 11 intercept possessions, taking 10 marks and barely wasting one of his 21 disposals as he racked up a team-high 627m gained.
His ability to set up scores from half-back turned the game in the second quarter as he won the ball, swivelled onto his left foot, and picked out difficult targets in the centre of the ground repeatedly.
He sparked a five-goal-to-one second quarter in a backline that did its job magnificently after quarter-time, working high up the ground to get maximum damage from his disposals and racking up six crucial touches.
In a tighter third quarter when the Blues slowed down the Lions' scoring but couldn't get the breakthrough they needed themselves, Coleman was again involved in significant moments.
After Charlie Curnow sprayed a set shot, Coleman launched the end-to-end chain that finished with Charlie Cameron stepping around Ollie Hollands and snapping a goal to put the Lions 15 points clear.
In the final quarter, when the Blues kicked back-to-back goals and the Lions needed one themselves to make sure of the result, Coleman again read the play, took his sixth intercept mark, and fed Darcy Gardiner, whose long shot on goal was marked on the line by Lincoln McCarthy for the sealer.
Carlton could justify putting more time into the Lions' bigger names, but Coleman proved to be the player who undid all of the Blues' brilliant early work, igniting his team and forcing them to adapt the running game that turned the match.
His development mirrors that of his team in some ways, having emerged in 2020 but struggling in his one final that year as a less experienced outfit worked through its second September campaign under Fagan.
He played in six more finals before Saturday night's win, with his semi-final against Melbourne last year probably the pick of those. Like his team, however, he was ready to go to another level on Saturday night.
Where the Lions were jumped by Geelong in last year's prelim and couldn't respond, they showed more resolve in their 13th Gabba win from 13 games this season.
Overcoming a 30-point deficit after the Blues kicked the first five goals of the game summed up the difference with this Lions' unit, which heads into its first Grand Final since 2004, giving it a shot at its fourth premiership as the Brisbane Lions.
Coleman's role in shaking them back to life on Saturday night was critical in getting them there, and he shapes as a key player against Collingwood in the third decider played between the two clubs. The Lions will hope his reputation can grow further at the MCG.