Lions had to scrap for third AFL flag

By three-quarter time of the 2003 AFL preliminary final, Brisbane’s three-peat campaign was all but shot.

Sydney had kicked four quick goals, reducing their deficit to only three points in front of a roaring home crowd at ANZ Stadium.

Captain Michael Voss’ troublesome knee had blown up again and he could hardly walk.

“I was convinced that we were gone,” Jonathan Brown remembers in his autobiography, Life And Football.

What happened next shows why so few AFL teams win three flags in a row.

It is the sort of moment probably waiting for Hawthorn as they travel from one side of Australia to the other, and back again, in a quest for their own three-peat glory.

In that grim three-quarter time huddle, Lions coach Leigh Matthews was magnificent.

After bluffing his players by saying he rested some of them during the third term, Matthews told them to form a tighter huddle.

He reminded them they were so close to making history, as the first team since Melbourne in 1957 to win three-straight premierships.

Brown, now a Fox Footy commentator, sums up Matthews’ crucial speech as “don’t go out with a whimper”.

Somehow, Brisbane mauled Sydney in the last term, kicking six goals to a solitary behind.

“I found myself wondering, ‘how the hell did that happen?'” Brown told AAP.

Brisbane carried the momentum into the grand final a week later, upsetting and bullying Collingwood by 50 points.

Just as the third Lions flag hinged on that preliminary final last quarter, Brown warns that Hawthorn’s Friday night clash with Fremantle is also pivotal.

“After last weekend, they’re a very good chance,” he said of Hawthorn’s big semi-final win over Adelaide.

“They haven’t got through the hard part – there’s still this second trip to Perth.

“It’s detrimental on your body and it’s harder on your body, the older you get.

“Hawthorn have several veterans.”

And several of those veterans were delayed at Melbourne airport on Wednesday for more than five hours.

So much for sending the advance party a day early.

Brisbane in 2003, like Hawthorn this month, made a tough assignment even harder by losing their qualifying final.

Under the current finals format, West Coast in 2006 is the only other team to win the premiership by playing in four matches.

Brisbane also had to travel three times in the 2003 finals series.

But in other respects, the Lions’ circumstances differed greatly.

Hawthorn went into this finals series as the premiership favourites – whereas very few pundits in 2003 expected Brisbane to win the flag again.

The Lions also famously had to overcome a series of injuries, including Voss’ knee and Brown’s broken hand.

Then there was Nigel Lappin.

Early in the last quarter of the Sydney win, Lappin was cleaned up in a “friendly fire” collision with Shaun Hart.

Lappin suffered two broken ribs and when Jason Akermanis revealed the injury, it became the story of grand final week.

Not only did Lappin pass a very public and very bruising fitness test at Albert Park the day before the grand final, he was one of their best players.

“I still say it’s the most courageous thing I’ve ever seen, what Lappin did,” Brown said.

That is some compliment, coming from Brown.

Such were Brisbane’s injury problems, Matthews revealed that team doctors had used 18 vials of local anaesthetic on various players before the grand final.

“We had the harder assignment … because we did travel a couple of times,” Brown says when asked to compare the Lions of ’03 to Hawthorn this season.

“But we were just badly banged up.

“I don’t think Hawthorn have as many serious injuries.”

Brown also would love to see the Hawks become the latest team to win three-straight premierships.

“I’d have no problem with it, whatsoever,” said Brown.

“If Hawthorn win three in a row, they surpass the Brisbane Lions in terms of what they’ve done over the last few years, winning four (including ’08).

“But a three-peat is a three-peat. You’re a tough, resilient side and you have great players, no matter what.”

Another Hawks win would mean Alastair Clarkson joins Matthews as four-time premiership coaches.

But Clarkson will do well to beat Matthews for one of the AFL’s greatest quotes.

In a lift on the way to their ’03 premiership dinner, Brisbane defender Justin Leppitsch started goading Matthews.

“You would be no good without us, Leigh,” Leppitsch said with a big grin.

To which Matthews replied: “Oh well, Lep, I will just have to settle for being the player of the century, won’t I?”

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