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How Fagan's arrival reinvigorated stagnating Lion's career

Daniel Rich is averaging 23 disposals in 2019  - AFL,Brisbane Lions,Daniel Rich,Chris Fagan
Daniel Rich is averaging 23 disposals in 2019

TO UNDERSTAND the influence Chris Fagan has had since joining Brisbane, you need look no further than the career resurgence of Daniel Rich.

The blond half-back started with a bang in his first year in the AFL, winning the 2009 NAB Rising Star award in a Lions team that played finals.

Three years later, he finished second in the club's best and fairest.

Daniel Rich is in a rich vein of form ahead of his 200th match for the Lions. Picture: AFL Photos

Aside from that though, it's been slim pickings for the former No.7 draft pick with the booming left boot.

Mindful that a ruptured ACL wiped out his 2014 season, Rich had at best plateaued, and in many eyes regressed, as his career ticked through its eighth season.

He looked like a player who would see out his career on an overpriced five-year contract he wouldn't live up to.

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But from the moment Fagan arrived in late 2016, things changed.

"When Fages first got here, one of the things he said was that he thought my best footy was ahead of me, which is always nice to hear," Rich told AFL.com.au.

"That extra belief was a great support.

"When your head coach is saying that to you, it gives you a bit of extra confidence."

Rich says he is thriving under new coach Chris Fagan this season. Picture: AFL Photos

Rich immediately thrived. Putting his previous life as a midfielder behind him to be stationed permanently at half-back, only a four-week ankle injury early last year has blotted his perfect log of games.

On Saturday night against North Melbourne at the Gabba, the West Australian will run out for his 200th game - and he could not be playing any better.

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"Fages is a very good coach in a lot of ways," Rich said.

"He encourages you to work on your weapons.

"He's got a big interest in what you're doing and how you are as a person.

"It makes you feel, in a way, that you're out there playing for him.

"He's got your back and you're going to do all you can to help him out as coach."

 

What Rich has done this year has been quite remarkable.

Now in his 11th season, the 29-year-old is unquestionably playing career-best football and should be pushing hard for an All Australian blazer.

He's averaging 23 disposals and ranks second for metres gained, with a kicking efficiency higher than any other player in the top 10 of that category.

The numbers only tell part of his story, though.

The work Rich has done with defensive coach Murray Davis should be applauded. He has transformed into a rugged, uncompromising competitor who is difficult to beat in a contest.

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Underneath the nonchalant demeanour lies a man who wants to improve.

Despite the nature of his rocky career as both an individual and part of a club that has enjoyed little recent success, Rich says he always had confidence in his own ability.

"I don't reckon there'd be anyone in the AFL that would say they haven't had tough times for a variety of reason, injury, form or the way the team's performing, and that's all impacted me.

"I did my knee and there's times when we were getting beaten by big margins and you feel like you're letting the fans down.

"So many times where your love for the game has dropped, but in those times, you put things into perspective - you could be much worse off.

"It's not as bad as it seems, and we've shown over the last 18 months that it can turn.

"I was always pretty optimistic things would turn around - I don't reckon I would have stuck around if I didn't think that was the case."

Rich is certainly benefitting from a settled backline, alongside Harris Andrews, Darcy Gardiner and former Hawthorn champion Luke Hodge.

 

He says Hodge is a "friend first" and likens him to a playing-coach on the field.

"You never stop learning in the AFL," Rich said.

"There's so many changes and different structures and terminology and you can always do things better.

"I just really enjoy coming in and doing what we do."

Just like his coach, Rich is contracted until the end of 2021, giving his resurgence plenty of scope for a few more chapters yet.