SUNDAY will be the first time Lachie Neale has faced Fremantle since his highly publicised exploration of moving back west last September.
Depending on the version of events you believe, Neale either took a cursory glance near the end of the season, or he and the Dockers were in cahoots for months trying to orchestrate a move.
After 48 hours of intense speculation following the story breaking, the 2020 Brownlow medallist re-affirmed his commitment to the Lions for the final two years of his contract.
Nine months later, Brisbane and Fremantle meet in a showdown that will help shape the top-four.
Neale’s reasons for entertaining the idea are now well documented.
He and wife Jules became parents for the first time, to Piper, just weeks after the drama, with the pair initially considering the move to be closer to family following 18 months of COVID-19 restrictions.
It was undoubtedly the biggest story of last year’s finals series until Melbourne broke its 57-year drought with a premiership.
"I'll never apologise for doing what's best for my family and that's all I was trying to do, and in the end what's best for us is to be here (Brisbane)," Neale said on the eve of the season.
"Probably when the story came out it rushed my decision.
"I feel like I would have gone through the process and came up with the same result. We just did it in two days instead of maybe two weeks."
The footy world was alerted to Neale’s consideration the day after Brisbane was bundled out of last year’s finals series in a heartbreaking one-point loss to the Western Bulldogs.
He cut celebrations short with his teammates and met Lions powerbrokers over the next two days to settle any concerns.
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The fallout was a sliding doors moment for both Brisbane and Fremantle, whose top-four match-up should have Optus Stadium at fever pitch.
For a fleeting moment, there was the prospect Fremantle’s midfield in 2022 could contain Neale, Nat Fyfe, Adam Cerra and Andrew Brayshaw.
Neale stayed in Brisbane, Cerra moved to Carlton, Fyfe got injured and the Dockers moved on spectacularly, riding the exploits of Brayshaw, Caleb Serong, David Mundy and former Sun Will Brodie to an 8-3 record.
Brayshaw lived with Neale in his debut 2018 season, before Neale headed to Brisbane.
The two are still firm friends today.
Once Neale made his mind up to stay with the Lions, he went about putting together the best pre-season of his life.
He returned to the Lions’ Yeronga training ground in early December is supreme condition, battling with Hugh McCluggage and trailing only former national steeplechase champion Harry Sharp in any running reps.
When the footballs were out, his hands were as clean as ever.
It has translated into form that is every bit as good as – and it could be argued better – than his incredible campaign two years ago.
Neale missed last year’s match against Fremantle in Perth with illness and has played the Dockers just once at the venue – a 2019 contest decided by a thumping Michael Walters set-shot after the siren that rattled the woodwork and gave the home team a one-point triumph.
Whether it’s irony, coincidence or just a good football battle, Neale and Brayshaw going head-to-head on Sunday, less than a year after the former contemplated re-joining his old club, should be well worth watching.