When Chris Fagan declared Brisbane were “not the Harris Andrews Football Club” three weeks out from the AFL finals it may have done more than just create a neat headline.
All-Australian fullback Andrews has since returned but in the meantime others, young and old, have stepped up in what defence coach Murray Davis admits is the big difference 12 months on from a straight-sets finals exit.
Veteran Daniel Rich is back to his best, Ryan Lester has grown in confidence while midfielder-in-waiting Brandon Starcevich has announced himself as a game-breaker.
Eyeing a fifth AFL flag, Hawthorn recruit Grant Birchall offers a quiet confidence while the depth is such that the likes of Alex Witherden – a regular last season – is unable to cement a spot.
While Andrews’ canny ability to spoil will be key in their preliminary-final battle with Geelong and in-form forward Tom Hawkins on Saturday, Davis says there is more to the Lions than that.
“It typifies what we are; that little period was an opportunity to show that we do operate as a unit, whether Harris is there or not,” Davis told AAP of their success while Andrews nursed a late-season hamstring injury.
“Every club wants to see that development across the board and Richy, Darcy Gardiner, Birch and Lester really took the opportunity to lead.
“They got about their business without much fuss and Brandon’s certainly in that category too.
“It’s sign of a good team when you’ve got many leaders out there.”
When Harris returned to face Richmond it was Lester who took the big assignment on Jack Riewoldt.
The veteran back has played 10 seasons at the Gabba but says there’s a clear difference now.
“We don’t rely on Lachy (Neale), Zorks (Dayne Zorko), Charlie (Cameron), Eric (Hipwood) or Harris, whilst they all still played really good games (against the Tigers),” he said.
“We don’t need them to play 10-out-of-10 games to win and that gives us confidence.”
Davis said Rich’s hunger for success was evident in how he’s attacking the contest, while he said Starcevich had shown his potential as a midfielder in the future.
“I could see some strengths that he had, some weapons that would help the backline so I was happy to fight for him,” Davis said of Starcevich.
“He’s got real power, repeat efforts and nice and strong over the ball.
“And I’m most proud of the tough brand of footy Richy is playing; pretty brave in the contest and aerially he’ll go back into a pack.”