IT MIGHT have been the defining line in the whole thing, the one that articulated the way footy can be boiled down to a single trait. His players in front of him and a high-stakes affair waiting, the primary point of emphasis was remarkably simple: "What you've learned is how hard to pressure the opposition into submission."

That line might sound like the one that cameras showed Damien Hardwick giving to his Richmond players ahead of the 2019 Grand Final, the one now known as the "1-wood" speech. It's easy to picture Hardwick or Simon Goodwin delivering the same message in Brisbane last year or Perth this year, too, given their respective sides' immense strength in the in-vogue discipline of pressure. 

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And yet that line doesn't belong to them. In fact, it doesn't belong to anyone of recent times.

The deliverer of that message? Leigh Matthews, to his fearsome Brisbane Lions a full two decades ago.

Footy as whole may always be evolving at ever-increasing speed, but the game's greatest teams have all carried the ability of being significantly ahead of that evolutionary curve. And in the aftermath of another premiership, this time by Melbourne, won on the back of pressure and a second-half surge, Matthews' Lions retrospectively look like perhaps the finest example of all.


Explored in immense detail in the exclusive feature-length documentary 'Actions To Live By' on AFL On Demand, the building of Brisbane's dynasty at the turn of the century has come to look stunningly modern in every possible way.

Brisbane's Michael Voss presents the 2003 Premiership cup to fans.

Like Hardwick would 20 years later, we see Matthews in the film giving a pre-match address that includes that key message about pressure. It was in 1999 when the master coach was building a totally new identity at the core of his team, an identity centred on the trait that now defines successful sides more than any other.

"If we didn’t have the ball," says Jason Akermanis, one of the documentary's primary subjects, "you tackle and dump. If you have to bury them, you bury them. No mercy."


Akermanis, of course, was a Brownlow medallist in the dynasty and one its biggest stars, one quarter of perhaps the best midfield ever that was rounded out by Michael Voss, Simon Black and Nigel Lappin. And yet listening to Aker and Matthews in 'Actions To Live By' is to understand that they didn’t perceive talent as their identity – rather, it was how they hunted as a group.

Jason Akermanis talks to AFL Media for ‘Actions To Live By'

Does that ring familiar to what you see and hear now?

The modernity didn't stop there, either.

In recent times we've seen the way successful teams have embraced human differences and contrasting personalities. At Richmond, the club shunned stereotypical ideas of alphas and masculinity and instead opened themselves to vulnerability. Even more recently we've seen Melbourne galvanise in a similar way around unconventional leader in Max Gawn. As ever, Matthews was there before them.


Leaning on personality profiling from Dr Phil Jauncey, Matthews was at the forefront of moving away from traditional coaching techniques and into new methods. "The psychologist was really important," says Jonathan Brown, another of the superstars of the era and a key figure in the film. "That helped Leigh a lot, to understand the players and obviously it helped us to understand ourselves and understand our teammates."

Jonathan Brown talks to AFL Media for ‘Actions To Live By'

Jauncey's work with the Lions and Matthews centred on a Venn diagram comprised of four categories that heightened the coach’s ability to connect with his players.

"A lot of his work was based on a personality profiling system," says Matthews of Jauncey. "What this did was give a fair indication of what Phil used to talk about as your tendencies under pressure. I found it an outstanding management tool. There were four basic categories of personalities: the Mozzie, the Enforcer, the Thinker, and the Feeler."

Given the fierce and imposing nature of that Brisbane side, naturally the group was heavy on Enforcers, as depicted in the film. "You've got 16 of your starting 21 in the Enforcer style," says Akermanis. "Every session, someone would be punching Leppa [Justin Leppitsch], Leppa would be punching someone else."

But Jauncey's profiling gave Matthews the ability to harness the group and the players that sat in different segments of the Venn diagram.

"Browny had a lot of the Mozzie in him," says Matthews. "If you wanted Browny to do something, just tell him five minutes before the game, just let him play on his instincts. [Whereas Nigel Lappin] was very much in the Feeler mode. You could never criticise Nigel because he was always criticising himself, more than any external person could. Marcus Ashcroft had a lot of the Thinker in his personality, so if I wanted Marcus to do something in a game or play on someone, give him a few days' notice, and he'll work out his battle plan."

Brisbane teammates Craig McRae (left) and Justin Leppitsch after winning the 2003 flag. Picture: AFL Photos

And yet, still, Matthews was in control of more.

It's uncanny to look at the arch of Brisbane’s first Grand Final triumph in 2001 and not see the same story that Melbourne would follow 20 years later. Down at half time thanks to inaccurate kicking (the Lions went into the main break at 5.10; the Demons at 5.9), Matthews' chargers hammered their opponents in a brutal third term that was the result of superior conditioning techniques that pushed the limits of fitness and recovery.


"Don Lehmann was the Qantas pilot who would fly our planes," says Matthews while detailing the lengths he and club went to. "Don would fly the plane at the safest, lowest altitude. The thought was if you could actually fly at 17,000 or 18,000 feet, the pressure would be different in the cabin and it might help your recovery and your dehydration issues."

They might have flown their planes low, but with a holistic approach of complete modernity, the Lions flew as high as anyone.

'Dynasties' is a new original series exclusive to AFL On Demand which will reveal the incredible inside stories of how the game’s greatest ever teams built their premiership successes and sustained them year after year. The series begins with the Brisbane Lions on the 20th anniversary of their first premiership and will return again in 2022 with another instalment.