Fears Brisbane Lions have ‘tipped over the edge’ amid ‘premiership window’ debate

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AFL legend Leigh Matthews says it’s too early to declare Brisbane’s premiership window has closed despite a winless start to the year and rumblings of off-field issues.

The Lions have lost to Carlton, Fremantle and Collingwood to be one of five winless teams after Round 3. Two of those defeats came at the Gabba, where they didn’t lose a game last year.

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This year is coach Chris Fagan’s eighth season in charge at Brisbane, who shot up to second on the ladder in 2019 after finishing 15th in 2018. The Lions haven’t missed the top eight since then.

The Lions have steadily gone further in finals series — semi-final in 2019, preliminary final in 2020, semi-final in 2021, preliminary in 2022 before losing last year’s grand final to Collingwood.

Bouncing back after losing a grand final is one of the hardest things to do in sport, making Hawthorn’s 2013-15 three-peat and Penrith’s current NRL dynasty even more impressive.

Speaking on Fox Footy’s First Crack on Sunday, Kangaroos great David King pondered whether Brisbane’s window is nearly closed already.

King said: “How long is Brisbane’s window? Because they’ve got some older players.

“They were the second oldest playing group this round behind Collingwood. So they’re there to win it. It’s not like a surprise or a shock if they are to loom large.

Watch Fox Footy’s Brisbane Lions discussion in the video above.

“We’re trying to work out who can win it (the premiership). How long is your window, if you’re Brisbane?

“How many years have you got when you’ve got this stacked list? There comes a point when you do tip over the edge.

“Maybe we do judge them really harshly and we’re critical of them, but they’ve got to win games at home.

“They’ve got to finish top two to win it. At the absolute worst, top four. They can’t be in the bottom bracket of the eight. So when we see them lose two home games, it is time to get alarmed.

“They’ve played some scintillating footy. We’re not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but we want to find out which is the real Brisbane. I don’t even think the coach knows.”

Leigh Montagna added: “Their key position stocks aren’t getting any younger and they don’t have a lot coming through.”

The Lions have lost defenders Keidean Coleman and Tom Doedee to ACL injuries but are expected to welcome back young midfielder Will Ashcroft from his own knee injury later in the season.

Matthews believes it’s “way too early” to shut the door on Brisbane’s hopes to win their first premiership since he coached them to a three-peat in 2001-03.

“It is a bad start to the year, no doubt about that,” he said on Nine’s Footy Furnace.

“In your win-loss ratio, it’s a very bad start to the year, but it’s not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Like every team (they have selection dilemmas).

“But again there’s no way in the world that you’re going to (write them off). (Eric) Hipwood is playing poorly, but you’re going to persevere with him because you know he can play well.”

The scrutiny on Brisbane’s form comes as the club rejects claims there is a split in the camp following last year’s end-of-season trip Las Vegas.

The Lions are in damage control following reports of a rift between players after messages and photos from the trip that were on a WhatsApp group chat were accidentally uploaded by a player to iCloud on his Apple phone.

The partner of the player accessed the group chat, and shared it with the partners of other players who were on trip, which led to some relationships ending.

The incident and alleged rift have been seen as reasons for the Lions starting the AFL season with three successive losses ahead of Friday’s clash against North Melbourne.

“I’ve never had a feeling there’s this angst among the playing group or disunity like that,” said Matthews, who is a Lions board member.

“I think everyone I speak to around the club says absolutely no way there’s any disunity that has got anything to do with the fact they’ve lost three games.”

After Brisbane’s loss to Collingwood in Round 3, Fagan said: “It’s not a great start, but let’s not catastrophise it either, would be the way I’d look at it. We’re zero and three, and there’s 20 games to go.

“Some of our players are not at their best at the moment. I can’t explain to you why, and that’s sport for you.

“Sometimes you go through form slumps … so we’ve got to keep working away with those guys. I’ve trusted them for a long time and they’ve delivered so I’m not going to jump off them just because we’ve lost three games in a row.”

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