Brisbane Lions player Lachie Neale stands on the ground holding his sore shoulder as a team trainer watches.

Five quick hits — An unlikely hero ignites the Lions as a superstar Blue produces another finals misfire

The grand final awaits for the Brisbane Lions after a preliminary final victory over Carlton that was inspired by an unheralded young defender and a unique star recruit.

Here are five quick hits from Brisbane’s big night.

1. Keidean Coleman emerges before our eyes

Having taken an early Carlton punch square on the chin, and staring down the barrel of a five-goal deficit, the Lions badly needed a hero.

In a team with so many big-game players, the candidates were plentiful. And yet nobody would have picked 23-year-old Keidean Coleman to be the one to inspire a Lions resurgence.

Keidean Coleman’s brilliant field kicking helped turn the tide for the Lions, as he gained 627 metres against Carlton.(Getty Images: Quinn Rooney)

Coleman has had a fine season at half-back for Brisbane, but for the most part his influence has come in little moments and patches. Due to his inexperience and the nature of his position, he rarely dominates games.

Coleman dominated this game. He was the catalyst for everything good about Brisbane offensively and fulfilled his defensive duties incredibly well.

A stat line of 21 disposals, 10 marks, 11 intercept possessions and 627 metres gained is a stellar one. The Lions wouldn’t be in the grand final without him.

2. How’s Lachie’s shoulder?

Hearts sunk as one around the Sunshine State. Just as Brisbane looked to be putting the game to bed, Lachie Neale got up from a crunching tackle grimacing and nursing his right shoulder.

That shoulder has caused Neale issues throughout his career, and the way he hit the ground with his arm outstretched was cause for alarm.

Brisbane Lions player Lachie Neale stands on the ground holding his sore shoulder as a team trainer watches.

The Lions held their breath as Lachie Neale held his shoulder after a tackle, but he finished out the game at the Gabba.(Getty Images: AFL Photos/Michael Willson)

But Neale shrugged the medical staff away and played out the game, telling Channel Seven after the game he was fine, and the injury was only a stinger.

It would want to be. It’s been 10 years since Neale played in a grand final, and back then he was only a sub in a Fremantle defeat to Hawthorn.

This time he is one of the main characters, with so much of Brisbane’s hopes resting on that apparently fine shoulder.

3. Dunkley takes on Cripps and wins

It was fairly clear that Patrick Cripps wasn’t 100 per cent fit on the night, but even when clipped the Carlton skipper is a formidable force.

His battle with Josh Dunkley had been telegraphed, so he knew it was coming as much as we did. But there was little Cripps could do once his Lions opponent clicked into gear.

A Brisbane Lions AFL player holds the ball in one hand while trying to fend off a Carlton player with the other.

Josh Dunkley put in a huge game for the Lions, with 16 contested possessions, five clearances and four score involvements.(Getty Images: AFL Photos/Russell Freeman)

Dunkley is one of a rare breed of midfielders who is able to shut down the opposition’s best player while still winning his own ball and influencing the game offensively. Dunkley had 23 disposals and won six clearances, while somehow keeping Cripps to just 13 touches.

It’s an invaluable weapon for a team to have, and Dunkley’s performance on Saturday night proved why the Lions were so keen to bring him to the club.

You can bet Jordan De Goey will be in Dunkley’s sights next.

4. Charlie Curnow fails to fire in finals

Footy fans have been waiting anxiously for the chance to watch Charlie Curnow in action in a finals campaign.

But even as his Blues threatened to touch the sky, Curnow failed to achieve lift off in 2023.

The Coleman Medallist was just lacking his usual spring this month, that athleticism and physicality that makes him such a special player. Too often it seemed like the pace of finals was overwhelming him, which wasn’t at all expected.

Curnow managed only one goal in each of his three finals, a significant downturn in form for a player who kicked 78 in the home and away season.

He’ll have more chances to make his mark in finals to come, but his maiden foray into September was more than a little disappointing.

5. Brisbane’s defensive dilemma

Jack Payne was unlucky to miss out on this game, reportedly as close to full fitness as he could be without being trusted with selection.

An extra week of recovery may well be enough for the big Brisbane defender to be considered for a return, but complicating matters is the performance of the man who replaced him.

Darcy Gardiner holds the ball in one hand near the boundary line as Charlie Curnow chases him

Darcy Gardiner did a great job on Charlie Curnow, but could find himself dropped for the grand final.(Getty Images: Russell Freeman)

Darcy Gardiner played brilliantly against Curnow at the Gabba, and would be an unlucky omission if Payne was to be recalled.

With former Lion Dan McStay ruled out of the grand final for Collingwood, the Pies may opt for a slightly smaller forward line — another factor Chris Fagan will have to consider.

Apart from that, the Lions look like they’ll go into the grand final relatively healthy and ready to attack the day.




Author: Russell White