Suddenly, the Lions’ midfield started dictating terms from the centre, led by the bullocking McInerney and captain Dayne Zorko. And the Charlie Cameron show began, first leading for a lace-out McCluggage kick, then snapping a second from a deep kick by Zorko. His third was outrageous: a drop punt kicked at full-pace across his body running parallel to the goals.
But the Bulldogs dug in. Caleb Daniel sliced and diced his way through the Lions from half-back.
Lions coach Chris Fagan said on Friday his team needed to defend the entire ground better than last week against Melbourne. They were better, but he wouldn’t have liked how often his team was taken the length of the field.
By the third quarter, the effect of a big home-town crowd began to be felt. Mitch Robinson’s effort was enormous in this quarter, so too McCluggage’s class. He kicked one goal, missed another two shots – probably cooked, for the amount of ground he covered – and was in everything.
For a long period, the ball was locked in the Lions’ attack. They scraped three goals out of it, and an unlikely goal to substitute Ryan Lester put them three goals up, but Johannisen’s quick reply hurt: Brisbane had used a lot of energy, but couldn’t break the game open, and were a man short; by the final quarter, the Lions were nine points up, but had lost the run of play.
Inevitably, the Dogs surged. Jack Macrae kicked a goal with his 34th possession. Josh Schache, drafted by the Lions at pick No. 2 way back in 2016, put the Dogs in front; Bailey Smith, getting better the longer the game went, kicked a pie floater that sailed through.
Certainly they were getting a good run from the umpires. Fagan, desperate, swung the big change: Harris Andrews went forward. It nearly worked. The Lions grabbed the momentum; Tom Fullarton made it a one-point game once again; Andrews marked and levelled it. Smith struck again, this one no pie floater, but a left-foot arrow from deep in the pocket. Zac Bailey waltzed through the Dogs’ defence to level it again.
The behind to Vandermeer broke the deadlock. The Lions surged the ball forward one more time, but to no avail. It was a brave defeat, but two straight-sets exits from the last three years is a bitter pill. But they’ve been a better team this year, losing critical players at the pointy end. They’ll be back.
WESTERN BULLDOGS 3.4 6.6 7.11 11.13 (79)
BRISBANE LIONS 5.3 6.5 9.9 11.12 (78)
Bulldogs Smith 3, Liberatore 2, Hannan, Naughton, Weightman, Macrae, Schache, Johannisen.
Lions Cameron 3, Bailey 2, McCluggage, Robinson, McCarthy, Fullarton, Daniher, Lester.
Bulldogs Macrae, Daniel, Smith, Bontempelli, Dale, Liberatore.
Lions McCluggage, Zorko, Cameron, Lyons, Robinson, Neale.
Bulldogs Weightman (head knock) replaced by medical sub Johannisen.
Lions Payne (cut head) replaced by medical sub Lester.
UMPIRES: Stevic, Williamson, Findlay.
CROWD: 30,647 at the Gabba.