'We were almost starting again': How the Lions rebuilt from raids

IN EARLY 2019, Brisbane had some decisions to make on its list after being raided by expansion clubs for two straight years.

How would they rebuild after a good chunk of the team that made Grand Finals in 2017 and 2018 had gone elsewhere?

Following the heartbreaking loss to the Western Bulldogs in 2018, the Lions were then dealt a further blow, losing top team quartet Kaitlyn Ashmore, Tahlia Randall, Jamie Stanton and Brittany Gibson to start-up North Melbourne.

"We were disappointed," Lions CEO Bree Brock told womens.afl.

"It wasn't something we were expecting to have to deal with, especially with another expansion on the horizon."

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Coach Craig Starcevich said he was "cranky" – not at losing the players, but the method opposition clubs chased them. While the Lions were trying to win, his players were being wooed by future opponents, he thought.

Ashmore had ties to Melbourne, and Gibson moved for family reasons, but the losses of Queenslanders Stanton and Randall blindsided the Lions.

Twelve months later they lost eight players to Gold Coast and inaugural fan favourites Sabrina Frederick (Richmond) and Kate McCarthy (St Kilda) were also farewelled.

In all, Brisbane lost 16 players to new clubs in a little over 12 months.

Yet, less than two years later they sit equal top of the competition with a mix of loyal originals, top-quality Queensland junior talent and gold nuggets dug up from the local state league competition leading the way.

And on Saturday they face the Kangaroos for the first time ever in a historic match at the Gabba.

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Brock said following a disappointing 2019 AFLW season, Brisbane had to think strategically on how to replace 13 players on its list.

"We were almost starting again," she said.

"We thought it was such a good opportunity to find some good players and see how they would fit in with our culture.

"Initially it was always (recruiting) best talent.

"There wasn't too much diligence on the cultural side of it, but by the time we'd gone through two expansions, that was the number one focus."

Brock and Starcevich went about picking the eyes from the Queensland AFLW competition.

They unearthed Dakota Davidson, Cathy Svarc, Greta Bodey and Maria Moloney.

We're building a 10-year list. This is a group of players that will be here for a long time

Lions CEO Bree Brock

This quartet were given an opportunity to impress in the three-game Winter Series against Gold Coast, which was also trying to assemble its inaugural list – and they clasped their chances with both hands.

Davidson, Svarc and Bodey were all relative newcomers to the game, but impressed with their work ethic and team-first mentality, as did inside midfielder Moloney.

That Winter Series proved invaluable to the Lions' rebuild.

"It really did us a favour," Starcevich said.

Orla O'Dwyer was scouted from Tipperary's Gaelic football and camogie teams, while the following draft netted local talent Lily Postlethwaite, Belle Dawes and Tahlia Hickie.

Sophie Conway was on the way back from an ACL.

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Although the 2020 season finished with a finals loss to Carlton, the pieces were in place for Brisbane.

With a much smaller turnover they added Courtney Hodder, Taylor Smith and Indy Tahau in the past off-season.

"We're building a 10-year list," Brock said.

"This is a group of players that will be here for a long time."

The current season has perhaps been the club's best yet. They've won six from seven, including road victories in successive weeks against Fremantle, Greater Western Sydney and Collingwood.

The Dockers had been almost unbeatable in the west, while victory over the Magpies came just 24 hours after Brisbane's home game turned into a 'fly-in, fly-out' trip to Melbourne.

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"We've put a like-minded group of people together who want to play for each other," Brock said.

"The results are taking care of themselves."

Although the new faces add some energy and excitement to the hard-working Lions' outfit, Starcevich says much of the credit for their current form should go to the 'Original Eight' - captain Emma Zielke, Kate Lutkins, Emily Bates, Bree Koenen, Shannon Campbell, Ally Anderson, Jess Wuetschner and Sharni Webb, who have stuck with the club since day one.

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"They were getting some heat from expansion teams but they elected to stay with us and have formed the nucleus of our leadership group," he said. "And you can throw Lauren Arnell into that bracket as well.

"That group have been super important.

"They've set the culture, training standards, solidarity, that type of thinking flows really strongly through the group.

"They're Brisbane Lions people through and through."

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