CHRIS Fagan got close to ultimate glory with Luke Hodge. And unless something changes drastically in coming weeks, it appears he'll fall just short with Grant Birchall this year.
But an approach to convince another premiership Hawk to move north could be the perfect tonic to make it third time lucky for the Brisbane coach entering 2022.
Essendon champion Matthew Lloyd told Channel Nine last week gun forward Jack Gunston was "thinking about his future and leaving Hawthorn".
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As a 29-year-old triple flag winner who has listened to the Hawks communicate a five-year premiership timeline for incoming coach Sam Mitchell in recent weeks, it's easy to see why.
Gunston holds a contract at Waverley Park for next season and remains a member of Hawthorn's leadership group. But heading into the twilight of his career he needs to ask himself if he wants to be a mentor for the club's next wave or chase his fourth flag?
Brisbane has a hole to fill in attack and holds two first-round picks this year, while the Hawks want to attack the draft for the next two seasons to accelerate their rebuild under Mitchell.
A Gunston move could prove a win-win for both parties.
The Lions signed Joe Daniher to play alongside Eric Hipwood and Dan McStay at the end of last season. Now Hipwood will now miss the next 12 months with a ruptured ACL.
Adding Gunston, who is still seen as one of the best hit-up forwards in the competition, would provide Fagan even more flexibility with Daniher. Since Hipwood's injury, Daniher has been required to play closer to goal – collecting 43 per cent of his disposals in the forward 50 compared to 34 per cent alongside his fellow tall.
Young tall Tom Fullarton, 22, has shown oodles of potential but has kicked two goals in eight games this year and appears more set to explode in 2023/2024.
With Gunston, Daniher could even continue his pinch-hit work in the ruck and not leave McStay as the sole target in attack while ruckman Oscar McInerney is resting off the ground. Plus, there's the added factor of Gunston's ability to play in defence if needed.
The Lions' list is still young enough that landing a player who will start next year as a 30-year-old wouldn't hurt their overall build. They rank 14th for average age and 12th for experience in the AFL this year and were they to surprise and win the flag, it would have them on par as the youngest and most inexperienced premiership sides with the Western Bulldogs outfit of 2016.
Of the 30-year-olds, Birchall is still weighing up whether he plays on, Dayne Zorko and Daniel Rich are signed, and Mitch Robinson is in the final stages of inking a one-year extension.
Cam Rayner will act as a new recruit next year after his knee reconstruction, 26-year-old McInerney will be better again in the ruck, while Harris Andrews, Hugh McCluggage, Jarrod Berry, Brandon Starcevich and Zac Bailey will be 22-25. Daniher and Lachie Neale start the season at 28 and Charlie Cameron has just hit 27. Their time to strike is now.
Gunston, Hawthorn's reigning best and fairest, has been reduced to one AFL game this year after back surgery in December delayed his start to the season before he was sent for follow-up surgery last week. Despite that, he and Hawks medicos are confident he'll be fit to tackle day one of the 2022 pre-season.
And if there's one fitness team that can bank on its recent success, it's Brisbane. Daniher had played 15 of 62 games for Essendon before arriving at the Lions where he's yet to miss a game. Birchall (Hawthorn) and Lincoln McCarthy (Geelong) are other recent examples, while 2020 recruit Nakia Cockatoo (Geelong) looms as a finals x-factor.
Gunston also holds a strong relationship with Fagan having spent five seasons together at Hawthorn. The Lions coach was the Hawks' head of coaching and development when Gunston arrived from Adelaide via trade at the end of 2011 before assuming the mantle of Hawthorn's head of football midway through 2013. In 2014, Fagan even described Gunston as "one of the smartest players playing the game."
Given their influx of young talent, combined with the reduction in salary cap, the Lions are telling everyone in football their cap is tight this season and retention of their emerging list is a priority.
Landing an established star like Gunston on upwards of $500,000 per season would be typically too hard with little wiggle room. However, the Hawks have a stack of salary cap space after the early retirements of Jon Patton and Tom Scully, and the Lions have two first-round draft picks – currently 14 and 18 (the latter tied to Melbourne after a deal in last year's Trade Period). There's some manoeuvring that could be done.
On the open market Gunston would be valued at around an early second-round pick. But if the Hawks were to pay around $200,000 of his wage for next year, would they accept a pick in the teens to help fast-track their rebuild alongside their own top-five selection?
By copping less money on the first year and then smoothing out Gunston's contract desires into 2023 or 2024, the Lions could counter their tight cap concerns.
Brisbane hasn't selected a player in the top 20 of a NAB AFL Draft for the past three seasons and a first-round draftee plays for $100,000 before match payments so there's upside in bringing in two for cap purposes. But at what point do you go all-in on the current list and look to bolster what you've already got for the short-term?
Rival list managers eyes will be drawn to Hawthorn's list this season to see who may be attainable with a new coach landing. Jaeger O'Meara, Tom Mitchell, Chad Wingard (all 27-28) are names that will be on whiteboards all over the country, however, that trio may just sneak into the Hawks' next window.
Turning 30 in September, Gunston is all-but certain not to be. And he could just be the player who takes an opposition forward line from good to great from next season.