Some thought the Lions would struggle to back-up a breakthrough 2019 season, but that was far from the case as they took one more step in reaching a preliminary final. Although missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play in a Gabba Grand Final, Brisbane made strides and look like being a contending team for many years to come.
Plenty went right. Brisbane was the most efficient team in the AFL once going inside 50, becoming less reliant on Charlie Cameron. It had seven players kick 10 goals or more, making them an unpredictable team to defend. With more injuries than in previous years, the Lions blooded six new players and unearthed some that could become long-term fixtures. Keidean Coleman and Jack Payne have shown they are up to the top level, while Oscar McInerney proved he is the long-term No.1 ruckman.
For much of the season goalkicking haunted the Lions. In losses to Geelong and Richmond, missed set shots cost them dearly, and in several other matches they kicked poorly but escaped victorious. The problems were slightly ironed out as the year wore on, but there's still not many 'safe' set shots to choose from. Finding a successor to Stefan Martin – to retain their preferred two-ruck combination – was also a problem. Archie Smith, Tom Fullarton, Sam Skinner and Connor Ballenden were all given chances, but the long-term plan in that department is no clearer.
You can't go past Brownlow medallist Lachie Neale. After finishing third in the game's highest individual honour last season, Neale went to a whole new level in 2020. Averaging 27.5 disposals in the shortened games, the man with possibly the cleanest hands in the AFL also became more damaging with his kicking in the front half. Neale kicked 14 goals for the season and his 36 disposal, 12 clearance outing against the vaunted Western Bulldogs midfield was a masterclass.
The club had high hopes for former first round draft pick Brandon Starcevich and the West Australian delivered in spades this season. Battling with injuries through his first two years, Starcevich grabbed a hotly-contested half-back position and did not let go. Not only did he often defend the opposition's best small forward, he became more damaging with his run and kicking late in the year. He could progress to the wing or midfield in coming years.
Brisbane pinpointed the need for a bigger body in its midfield after 2019, but the addition of Cam Ellis-Yolmen didn't quite work. The former Crow played nine games, but through a combination of injury and indifferent form, could not nail down a regular spot. He was brought in to play the bigger Geelong midfield in the preliminary final, but mixing time between half-forward and the middle, made little impact.
No doubt the 15-point qualifying final victory over Richmond wins here. Not only was it Brisbane's first finals win in 11 years, but it broke a 15-game losing streak against the Tigers. Cameron kicked three goals, Neale starred in the midfield and the Gabba was rocking.
That came on Saturday night, not just losing to Geelong, but being humbled. After referencing a loss to the same opponent in round six as a "learning" for most of the season, the Lions simply could not deal with the Cats' midfield craft and suffocating structure. It showed they were still a little way off the absolute best teams.
How should they approach list management?
The Lions are close to a premiership and should prioritise the filling of list holes over drafting young talent. The key forward stocks will be bolstered with restricted free agent Joe Daniher already indicating he wants to join. They should also be hunting for more outside speed and an inside midfielder that can go forward. Having two first round draft picks to play with should give Brisbane some leverage at the negotiating table.
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Early call for 2021
They should be right around that top four and challenging for a flag again. Neale, Cameron and Harris Andrews are all in their primes and Hugh McCluggage, Jarrod Berry, Cam Rayner, Zac Bailey and Starcevich should continue to ascend. Daniher's impact could be the wildcard.
The season finished on a flat note, but overall it was a huge success. Players developed, some young talent was unearthed and the Lions are now as reliable and consistent as any team in the competition.