Fagan said the players would gain confidence from the victory, their first against Richmond since 2009. “I think it will give our group a lot of confidence to win their first final.
“They’ve been working hard towards it over a number of years now. And a lot of the learnings that I suppose they’ve gone through over the last three or four years came to fruition tonight.”
The Lions will play either Geelong or the winner of the West Coast v Collingwood game in their preliminary final and obviously will play at their home again in the grand final should they make it.
“I thought that we showed tremendous mental strength to hang in the game there. There was a period of time early in the second quarter when Richmond just hammered away and you know there was a danger they could take the game from us at that point but we hung in there and managed to get some momentum ourselves, late in that second quarter, which ended up being the match-winning time of the game.
“The mental strength our group showed, their composure under pressure, their understanding that when you play in these big games you’ve got to win them several times, you don’t just win them once.
“I’m just excited for the players and the staff and the club in general … I’m very proud of the group.
Fagan said he had not said anything to Brownlow Medal favourite Lachie Neale after the star had zero possessions in the first quarter. Neale went on to have eight in the second term and booted a critical 55-metre goal that Fagan called “a big moment” of the match, giving the Lions a 13-point lead at half-time after Richmond had been in control without scoring much.
“I didn’t say anything to him because I was surprised. I looked and it said ‘Will I say anything? I thought, no I won’t because he’s a champion player and he’ll know himself he hasn’t done all that well … from that point in time onwards we got on top in that area.
“It was a big moment, no doubt about that, that was an outstanding kick. He was a long way out and he needed every bit of his strength to get it there … He sensed the moment. That’s one thing we learned from last year, that finals are full of moments and you’ve just got to get as many right as you can.”
The Lions coach resisted the temptation to move to plan B on Richmond champion Dustin Martin, who had been influential in the first half around the midfield.
“We just stuck with our system, the scoreboard wasn’t telling us that we needed to change. We certainly had some plan B things in mind if Dusty got out of control … he did bit of damage in the midfield, but we just didn’t get to that point where we needed to respond.”
Fagan said the hard work the Lions had done on their goalkicking had started to pay off. “The last three or four and they’re the only weeks that matter, we’ve been pretty good.”
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.