AFL: Leppitsch at the Lions helm is a positive for 2014


Leppitsch at Lions Training (photo: News Ltd/Steve Pohlner

Leppitsch at Lions Training (photo: News Ltd/Steve Pohlner

(from the mouth of a Lions fan)

In sport, experience matters when it comes to leading a list of players.  Each AFL team has around 40 of them; that’s a handful.

For the Brisbane Lions, a new approach with Justin Leppitsch may just be the kickstart needed after two years on the fringe, coupled with some disappointing results.

With a change in the leadership group, and Jed Adcock assuming the captaincy, season 2014 needs to be the year where the Lions can shake off inconsistency and put results on the board week after week.

There is a change in the upper echelons too, with the Lions board furore being settled in late October last year.  Having Leigh Matthews back at the club – a former premiership coach – gives Leppitsch another “rung” to be supported by.

Former chairman Angus Johnson has been replaced by Bob Sharpless, and the switch happened at exactly the right moment.  Matthews will not be taking a hands-on gameday role as such, but the support garnered from the ticket to oust the former board means that he and new chairman Bob Sharpless have already implemented positive steps for a side that desires to return to the top eight.

To do that, the players need to step up.  Tom Rockliff, Daniel Rich, Jack Redden and Daniel Merrett are a few that spring to mind.  All of them have played almost 100 games (Merrett has 152).  Add in Ash McGrath, Brent Moloney, and Joel Patfull, you have seven players bringing different angles of gameplay, tactics and playing style to the table.

Little will it matter if the team is not a “whole”.  Jonathan Brown is on the outer, applying pressure on the rest of the side.  However, back in November, Leppitsch declared that after just a few weeks things were sliding into place, especially on the USA trip.

“When you are trying to mesh in players with a new coach, it’s great to get away for a period of time so you can get that tighter bond that will serve you well later down the track. That’s the No.1 thing we want to get out of it.”

Three players to watch:

Stefan Martin

Playing ruckman/forward for Melbourne served Martin well, and that sort of role at the Lions is crucial in building a platform for a) a big score and b) a competitive game.

Injuries have curtailed Martin’s game time at Brisbane, but he’s 198cm tall.  The drive he can give in the attacking half is a perfect foil for the likes of McGrath and Brown, while serving as a second ruckman to Matthew Leuenberger.

Brent Staker

Much has been said about the 29 year old during his four years in the maroon – with more than two spent on the sidelines.  In 2014, Staker is ready and firing, after performances at the back end of 2013 suggested he hadn’t lost too much form.

On his two year contract extension;

It worked out that Brisbane was the better offer for me and the better place to play my footy so it was pretty simple.

“I’ve obviously been through a few injuries so to have two years on the table, to get that at the back end of my career, would be awesome.’’

Staker’s ability to play as a utility cannot be understated; a rotten run of injuries throughout the club in the past two seasons means that preparation is vital.

Pearce Hanley

Blossoming in 2013, the Irishman may have just been Brisbane’s rock when most fell around him.  He’s quick, he’s agile, and has a mean kicking foot.  In addition, he can learn much from Leppitsch, a former defender.

Natural game technique cannot be curbed if Hanley is to make a major impact on the Lions; which means finding ways to break any tags or opposition attack.

Summary

There has been what could be considered not only a change in personnel, but a change in “time” as well.  Having taken backwards steps in recruiting, each moral and physical victory over the last two years has set the tone for fans and staff alike that the consistent positivity is waiting to be discovered.

In 2015, the old Fitzroy Lion will return to the playing guernseys, bringing a long-standing tradition back to the club.  Small steps they are – and this year may not be “the year – but the signs are there.  The first match against Hawthorn – away – is not going to be an easy ask either, but with a confident Leppitsch at the helm, the Lions cannot afford to look back on past mistakes – rather correct them.

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