Brisbane Lions coach Chris Fagan believes Geelong’s near-flawless preliminary final win was “a reflection of the frustration” the Cats would’ve felt for missing out on several Grand Finals over the past decade.
After losing five of their previous seven prelims, the Cats on Friday night sent an ominous warning to Sydney and Collingwood, thumping Fagan’s Lions in a clinical 71-point victory at the MCG.
It meant Brisbane’s unlikely surge deep into September was brought to a jarring halt as the Lions fell short of making a Grand Final for the fourth consecutive year.
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Speaking to post-game reporters, Fagan said his side would’ve learned ample from Geelong, which “played a brilliant finals game and look in great shape for next week”.
“They outplayed us in every facet of the game, really. The contest, their team defense tonight was excellent, the way they moved the ball was outstanding,” Fagan said.
“It’s hard to know whether the two finals that we played in where we had to go to the wire every week, what sort of toll that takes on the group mentally and physically – I don’t know, there perhaps is. … Maybe we were pretty ripe for the picking, but they’ve certainly managed their training and preparation exceptionally well over the last couple of weeks and they looked really sharp tonight, so congratulations to them.
“You look at Geelong and I admire them as a footy club enormously. We’ve played in the last four final series and we’ll learn from that, (but) they’ve played in a lot of finals series and haven’t got to the big dance all that often. Tonight, I felt like the performance they put in was a reflection of the frustration that they probably feel about that. They’ve given themselves a chance.
“So we just have to look at what they’ve done and go back and learn the lessons from tonight and come out a better team next year, which is what we’ve been trying to do for the last six years since I’ve been coach.”
Asked whether the Cats were the best team the Lions had played this year, Fagan said: “Whoever plays them in the Grand Final next week, they’re going to be pretty hard to beat, I would’ve thought. That was a complete performance tonight.”
The Cats proved why they are the league’s best team at scoring and defending off turnover this season.
By half-time, the Cats had kicked 5.3 from turnover, while the Lions hadn’t even registered a scoring shot from the source at the same point in the game.
Fagan said that was a result of a shrewd tactical performance from Cats coach Chris Scott.
“Their tactic of dropping their ruckman behind the ball meant that we were seven v six a lot of the time,” he said. “They managed to intercept mark our entries.
“We bombed the ball too much when we had an extra number at stoppage when we should have been shaping the ball … We kicked it to their numbers and they were able to run and overlap and get the better of us in that regard.
“We tried a lot of things tonight to stop that. It wasn’t as if we weren’t aware of it. Pretty much at quarter time and at half time, we tried to address it.
“There wasn’t any particular moment or event that caused it. I just think they just wore us down with their energy and their run.”
Fagan said the Cats had a “magnificent weapon” in Mark Blicavs, who “enables them to do some things that other teams can’t do”.
Despite the disappointing finish to the season, Fagan said his Lions would enter the off-season with confidence.
“I think we now know the right formula to win final matches. It sounds silly saying to me that tonight because we got a hiding tonight, but the previous two weeks against the teams like Richmond and Melbourne, who have been great finals teams over the last few years, we showed that we could match it with them and play the right brand, play at the intensity, play with the right mindset,” he said.
“We ran into a brick wall tonight, but we’ll take a fair bit of confidence from those two previous weeks, particularly when we came in as the rank underdogs. I don’t think anyone thought we’d win a final this year, so it’s a great show of mental toughness that we’re able to do that.”
Brisbane’s attention now turns to its list and the trade table.
It’s widely expected off-contract Lion Dan McStay will exercise his free agency rights and request a move to Collingwood, while Brisbane is in the race to secure premiership Bulldog Josh Dunkley.
Asked if he was resigned to losing McStay, Fagan said: “I don’t know because Dan hasn’t told me. But I would suspect if he was going to be a Brisbane player next year, we would know that by now.
“So if Collingwood’s the club Collingwood’s the club. That wouldn’t surprise me, but we haven’t had that conversation.”
Asked if his club had a chance of securing Dunkley, Fagan said: “You should talk to our list management team about that. I’m not prepared to comment about potential trades from other clubs.”