A casual conversation with three-time Hawthorn premiership captain Luke Hodge during the International Rules tour has left Brisbane skipper Tom Rockliff convinced most of their next AFL premiership team is already together.
All there is left to do, Rockliff says, is “sell the message” to the squad and work hard for long enough to make it happen.
“We were just talking about where Hawthorn were at, where Brisbane were at, sitting on the bus one night,” Rockliff said.
“(Hodge) said it’s important we keep our group together. We’ve got to sell that message, that if we stay together we can build something special up here.
“I’ve played for seven, eight years now and I’ve never played a finals game and that stings most out of anything.
“I’d hand back my All Australian, my B and Fs (best and fairest awards) to taste that finals footy and play footy in September.”
It’s a familiar pre-season refrain from the luckless Lions, who have been in what feels like a perpetual cycle of mediocrity: frustrated by a lack of success, top players agitate to leave, the club is forced to rebuild, rinse and repeat.
But this is the season Rockliff says Brisbane will break free and get it right.
James Aish, Jack Redden and Matthew Leuenberger are gone, but highly-rated academy products Eric Hipwood and Ben Keays are in, as is No.2 draft pick Josh Schache, the heir apparent to Jonathan Brown’s throne and whose late father used to play for the Bears.
Pearce Hanley, Stefan Martin and Mitch Robinson are among those to have pledged their future to the club.
All want to be Lions for life.
“Especially when blokes want to leave the footy club as well, it gets microscoped now because of a few years ago when we had those retention issues,” Rockliff said.
“You’re probably going to have one or two slip through the cracks, but it’s the ones that re-sign – I think we’ve had 25, 26 recommit over the last two, three years to the footy club.”
Rockliff said it was hard to predict what a pass mark for 2016 would be, other than simply continued improvement.
Pressure to post wins is mounting, as the Lions exist in one of the country’s toughest sporting markets and one that tends to only jump on the AFL bandwagon when they’re winning.
“We’ve got younger but that’s not an excuse either, we’ve got to hold each other accountable a lot more,” Rockliff said.
“As you’ve seen last year a lot of people would have written Western Bulldogs off but they ended up finishing sixth and playing finals footy.”