Dayne Zorko leads Brisbane off the ground after its preliminary final loss to Geelong on September 16, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

THE PRESENT and the future of Brisbane were a stone's throw apart on Friday night.

As the Lions bowed out of the 2022 season at the MCG, once again left with a feeling of 'what if?' as the Cats marched into next Saturday's Grand Final in their place, this time there was reason for the frustration to be tinged with some hope for what's to come.

The regrettable part of the night, and indeed the season, was etched among downtrodden Brisbane faces. For the fourth straight season, the club had thrown away a position of almighty promise. The manner of its disheartening 71-point defeat was a reflection of those regrets.

CATS v LIONS Full match coverage and stats

Having spent 18 of the season's final 20 weeks in the top four, only to discard their position of security in round 23, the Lions had done well to make it this far. They had shown a resiliency throughout this September that hadn't necessarily been part of their finals DNA in years gone by.


With a 1-5 finals record under coach Chris Fagan heading into this month, Brisbane had recovered from the loss of ruckman Oscar McInerney to score a last-gasp winning goal in a thrilling elimination final victory against Richmond a fortnight ago.

They had then responded to the loss of Joe Daniher on the day of last week's semi-final against Melbourne, fighting from 28 points down to record an upset win over the reigning premier and a side that had embarrassed them in both previous meetings this year. In doing so, they had also snapped an 11-match losing streak at the MCG.

As a result, this iteration of Fagan's team now exits its campaign with a much more respectable 3-6 finals record. In the preliminary final, it can rightfully argue it was simply beaten by a much more rounded and efficient Geelong team.

Max Holmes' goal on the stroke of quarter-time, having caught Lions youngster Darcy Wilmot holding the ball, felt like a gut-punch. It proved that way when the Cats kicked four straight majors on either side of the main break to extend their lead to 37 points. From there, they ran away with the contest.

But the more maddening aspect of Friday night's defeat from a Brisbane perspective was the prospect of tossing aside yet another season where the cards had fallen in the favour of Fagan's team.

Joe Daniher, Eric Hipwood and Chris Fagan look dejected after Brisbane's preliminary final loss to Geelong on September 16, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

Whereas in years gone by, that had come in the form of the Lions missing the chance to take advantage of favourable draws and circumstance – they played both finals at the Gabba, and lost both, in 2019 and 2021, as well as playing just two games outside of Queensland in 2020 after the season's restart – this time it came in the form of a clean injury run.

According to Champion Data, Brisbane lost just 58 games to injury throughout this year's home and away season. It was clearly the fewest games missed of any team in the competition and the smallest number of any side since Port Adelaide in 2017. The club also lost just 37 games to injury for players selected the previous week, again the fewest of any team in the League.

Luck, it must be said, wasn't entirely on their side during the finals. Cam Rayner and Noah Answerth missed the elimination final due to suspension. McInerney's stint in the concussion protocols, combined with Jarryd Lyons' groin injury and Daniher's return home, meant more important figures were absent when it mattered.

But with some fortune, they will return next year and ensure Brisbane is competitive – and perhaps primed – to go again. There might be some other stars ready to assist that premiership charge as well.

Just a short drive away at Ikon Park on Friday night, barely two hours before the preliminary final was due to take place, the club's bright future was also on show as the best junior footballer in the country was doing as he pleased to help the Sandringham Dragons cruise to victory in the NAB League decider.

Will Ashcroft, who is tied to Brisbane given his father Marcus was a triple-premiership player for the Lions and a 318-game player at the club, won 39 disposals and six clearances in Sandringham's 43-point Grand Final win. He was a clear best-on-ground.

Will Ashcroft poses with his premiership and best-on-ground medals after Sandringham's NAB League Grand Final win over Dandenong on September 16, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

This November, he will head to Brisbane likely as the No.1 selection. Jaspa Fletcher, a member of the club's Academy and touted as another potential top-15 pick, is almost certain to join him. Both will ensure the club's premiership window remains wide open for the foreseeable future.

As revealed by, gun Western Bulldogs midfielder Josh Dunkley remains a significant chance to join the club during the Trade Period. Sydney champion Lance Franklin, having put off contract talks with the Swans until season's end, is another who has been linked with a move north.

TRADE HUB All the latest player movement news

There will also be some departures. Friday night was almost certainly key forward Dan McStay's final game for the club as he nears a long-term move to Collingwood, while key defender Darcy Gardiner is a restricted free agent and is also considering his future. Both played important roles in the side's September surge.

But the Lions will still be spending the coming months adding to the core of a team genuinely ready to compete, and should have garnered some inspiration for how to turn 'close enough' into 'more than good enough' on Friday night.

The Cats, after all, came into this season's finals series with a 7-15 record in September since their 2011 premiership. They were also 1-5 in preliminary finals since that flag. All of that pain could be washed away next Saturday. For the Lions, they'll be hoping their frustration is similarly eradicated in the years to come.