With the Brisbane Lions missing Eric Hipwood and Dan McStay through injury, exactly how much will fall on the shoulders of Joe Daniher this weekend against the Western Bulldogs?
Lions coach Chris Fagan would prefer not to look at it that way. “We play a system,” he says. “We have the highest average number of goalkickers per game, we’ve had a lot of guys that have kicked 15 or more goals this year. We’ve never been reliant on any one source.”
This is true. Seven players have kicked more than 15 goals across the season, including Daniher: add Charlie Cameron (52), Lincoln McCarthy (35), Zac Bailey (29), McStay (28), Hipwood (26) and captain Dayne Zorko (17). Hugh McCluggage has 14.
But Daniher’s individual contribution can’t be ignored either. If anything, his extraordinary rebirth at the Lions after his last three seasons at Essendon were ruined by injury has been undersold.
He hasn’t missed a game, a testament to the club’s medical and fitness staff. And he’s kicked a goal in all of them, bar one: last week’s qualifying final against Melbourne. In total, he’s kicked 45 goals and 35 behinds. He’d kicked 18 from 15 matches in the previous three years.
The question is how to best support him. McStay and Hipwood are not world-beaters, but adding Daniher took pressure off all three players, who could interchangeably play deeper or push up to the wings as link players.
The result was McStay and Hipwood enjoying career-best seasons, while Daniher didn’t have to worry about being the main target in attack every week. Nor did Cameron, who had essentially been playing as a small full-forward, an unsustainable option.
The Lions have been an infinitely more flexible and dangerous team as a result, and Fagan admitted being forced to reshuffle their line-up had taken up much of the Lions’ match committee deliberations at the selection table this week.