Last night, my Brisbane Lions beat the West Coast Eagles to end an eight-game losing streak. It was 15th versus 16th, and the result has probably sealed West Coast’s first ever wooden spoon. A Lions loss would have had us only ahead of the Eagles on percentage, and a very real chance that we could be overtaken and end up with our first spoon since 1998.
As you would have seen, I’ve been refusing to shave in protest at the Lions’ insipid performances this year, ever since we lost to a then-bottom Richmond at the Gabba in round 13. It started with an off-hand remark on Twitter which I then found myself determined to stick to. I was tired of the inconsistency in the Lions’ performances which had cost us several close losses, such as the terrible first half against North Melbourne, followed by an excellent second half which saw us come from behind to take the lead, only to give it up again in the final moments. They’d shown us repeatedly that they could be brilliant, but were just as likely be awful. It was infuriating to see such wild inconsistency and our season slipping away because of it.
So I stopped shaving, and would only shave again when the Lions showed me a solid four-quarter effort. Winning or losing would not decide for me, I wanted four good quarters of the football they’d shown me they were capable of.
Since then, the Lions have had five straight losses, and never really looked like winning any of them. I couldn’t really say that they gave me four satisfactory quarters out of the twenty.
Last night made me realise that I just can’t judge them in the same terms anymore, so I quit.
This Lions team has fallen so far that it’s no longer relevant for me to expect any sustained quality of performance from them. They’re just not capable of the flashes of brilliance anymore. For about fifteen minutes in the second quarter we played flowing football with minimal errors and it was such an aberration that I realised how far from it we’d been.
I had made a point of holding this team to the standards I expected when the season started. We were coming off a finals appearance last year with the expectation that we would be back there again this season. When I started this, that was what I wanted from the Lions. I would not drop my standards or lower my expectations. We started this year expecting to challenge the top teams and win, so honourable losses to good opposition would not be good enough. Unfortunately, even that has become too much to ask.
The question of why we’ve become so bad is one that I can’t really answer, but I have to accept it. Our skills are poor and our decision-making is terrible. In pressure situations, we look slow, like the computers of ten years ago. We get beaten by broken tackles. Mental errors from defenders give opponents easy shots on goal that should never have been. Most of all, there is no cohesion through the team. They look lost.
Yes, there have been positives too, but as I said earlier, I’m holding this team to the standards I started the season with. I’ve been happy with the progress of several young players, with Rising Star nominations for Todd Banfield, Jack Redden and Tom Rockliff. Ryan Harwood might have got one too if he’d debuted earlier in the season. A few senior players have been okay, but many more have been disappointing. The selectors seem to be on a different page from me, dropping players I’ve been happy with while persisting with others that I felt were more deserving of a week in the twos. Travis Johnstone must have run over somebody’s cat to be treated the way he has been.
Much has been made of the trades the Lions made last year, with an eye to seriously contending for a flag. Much has also been made of the injuries we’ve suffered, especially to Jonathan Brown, who was on fire until injuring his groin in round four, the end of our four-game winning streak to start the season. I’d argue that we weren’t playing very well even during that 4-0 start, so when things started to go wrong it had a drastic effect and we never came close to recovering.
The pressure has been on Michael Voss and it’ll continue that way. There’s no way to argue that he has handled these challenges well, but hopefully we can show a bit more to finish off the season, then get things up and running better next year. I certainly don’t count Vossy out, and I expect to play finals next year. As bad as this season has been, it’s not the final judgement on Vossy as coach or the success of his aggressive trading strategy last year.
So who knows, I may start growing my beard again next year…
(Actually, no. I’ll think of another way to show the Lions what I expect from them.)