The Brisbane Lions are in the finals, after accounting for the West Coast Eagles in a hard-fought encounter at the Gabba. But even as the Eagles pushed them until the 11th hour – as they fought in vain to save their season – it wasn’t the result that the home fans were most interested in. It was percentage.
For a long stretch of the last quarter, there was 0.1% separating the Lions from the Western Bulldogs and a top-four finish. And inside the last minute, both teams were showing 132.8%, with Dan McStay taking a shot with 30 seconds to go. He missed the lot. But West Coast couldn’t clear their defensive 50, and Lincoln McCarthy found a behind.
That put them 0.1% in front, and the home crowd – hanging on every behind – went mad. Just to ice their cake, Charlie Cameron intercepted the kick-in, sent the ball back over the umpire’s head for his third goal, and sealed a 38-point win that was far, far closer than that margin suggests. He was immediately mobbed by ecstatic teammates.
The Lions now have the double chance, thanks to the Bulldogs’ late-season wobbles. They didn’t play especially well, but when it was on the line they exploded, finishing over the top of the Eagles with a six-goal final quarter in which Joe Daniher and Cameron up forward, and Marcus Adams and Daniel Rich in defence, were instrumental.
For the heavily undermanned Eagles, it marks the end of a long era in contention under coach Adam Simpson. But they didn’t go down without a huge fight. Nic Naitanui was best on ground in a losing side with 52 hitouts and 10 clearances, on top of 23 disposals, and Elliot Yeo and Luke Shuey, missing for so much of the year, were brilliant.
Those three made the Lions look sluggish early, with Oscar Allen and Jake Waterman on the board for the Eagles before they’d woken up. When they did, the match looked like unfolding according to the script, the Lions slamming through the next seven goals, Daniel Rich making the play from half-back, Dayne Zorko lifting the Lions around the clearances.
But the second quarter reminded the Brisbane Lions that they still had to win the match before they had the luxury of worrying about percentage. With Naitanui unstoppable, the Eagles surged back into the match, kicking five goals to three. They weren’t quite ready to give up on their season, regardless of what anyone else thought of their chances.
They closed the margin to four points before the Lions hit back with a late goal to Dan McStay – in career-best form – but the question was being asked of the home side. Their efforts were patchy and uneven, both from contest to contest and across their 22 players. And with every goal the Eagles kicked, win or lose, their task only got harder.