CHRIS Fagan says leaving Jack Payne out of Brisbane's Grand Final team was a tough decision, but the key defender's lack of football late in the season eventually cost him.
Payne has battled an ankle injury since the Lions' qualifying final win over Port Adelaide, and despite a strong training session at the Gabba on Thursday, wasn't selected to face Collingwood.
Instead, Brisbane's coach opted to retain veteran Darcy Gardiner, who did a fantastic job in restricting Coleman medallist Charlie Curnow to just one goal last week.
Speaking at the coach and captain press conference on Friday afternoon, Fagan said it was "an extremely difficult decision" because of Payne's rapid improvement this season.
"It came really to match fitness," he said.
"Jack Payne leading into this game would have played one game in five weeks, and his first full training session was yesterday.
"He did really well, but at the end of the day it's going to be hot out there tomorrow, bodies are going to be crashing in pretty hard, we just thought that it was a wiser decision to go with the guy who is a little bit more match hardened."
The Lions completed their preparation with a captain's run at the MCG in front of close to 10,000 fans, with Fagan given a standing ovation when he went on to the field.
Now in his seventh season at the helm, Fagan said it had been a wonderful journey from the bottom to their current opportunity.
"We’ve been close to getting to the big dance a few times, but not close enough," he said.
"To get there is a tremendous reward for everyone at the footy club, not just me, but the players, the staff, everybody who has done the hard years, because there's been a lot of hard yards done.
"In more recent times there's been some real disappointment in finals.
"We've tried to gather all those experiences and regrets and turn them into a positive.
"Now we've given ourselves a chance tomorrow to do that, and if we don't win tomorrow, we'll fight just as hard again next year."