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Beaten but unbowed, Brisbane Lions lick their grand final wounds

Coach Chris Fagan's expression says it all as he leads the Lions back to their Brisbane den.

Coach Chris Fagan's expression says it all as he leads the Lions back to their Brisbane den. Photo: AAP

The Brisbane Lions believe their heartbreaking AFL grand final loss is only the beginning and have vowed to use the pain of defeat to drive them one step further in 2024.

In the club’s first decider since 2004, the Lions fell four points short of Collingwood at the MCG on Saturday in one of the greatest grand finals of all-time.

Brisbane had their chances to pinch a fourth premiership since the Bears and Fitzroy merged in 1996 but the Magpies’ ability to clinch close games got them over the line.

Despite playing finals for the last five seasons, coach Chris Fagan believes the Lions have only just truly moved into the premiership window.

Brisbane went out in straight sets twice (2019 and 2021) and lost two preliminary finals before qualifying for the last Saturday in September.

Lions star Hugh McLuggage echoed Fagan’s sentiments.

“We’ve still got quite a young group,” the vice-captain said at the Lions’ family day in Fitzroy on Sunday.

“You see guys like Darcy Wilmot, ‘Kiddy’ (Keidean) Coleman playing great footy throughout the year and in the finals as well.

“Then a lot of guys, Cam Rayner, myself, ‘Bez’ (Jarrod Berry) all in that age bracket where we feel like we’ve still got a lot left give and our best footy ahead of us.

“It’s disappointing that we couldn’t get it done for some of our older guys and the guys that have been around for a long time.

‘We can bounce back’

“We’re confident that we can bounce back and give it a good shot throughout the next few years.”

Loyal veteran Daniel Rich has retired after his form dropped away this season, while question marks remain on three-time Hawthorn premiership player’s Jack Gunston’s future.

Former captain Dayne Zorko wants to play on next year but no decision has been made by the club for next year.

Father-son prodigy Will Ashcroft was on track to claim the Rising Star award before he ruptured his ACL in round 19 but he will return next year.

Ashcroft’s brother Levi is due to be drafted to the Lions at the end of 2024.

Brisbane were on average significantly younger than the Collingwood unit they faced on Saturday.

Rather than shy away from being on the losing end of a thrilling premiership decider, the Lions will review the match immediately to see where they can improve.

Often coaches and players in the past have admitted not being able to watch reruns of heartbreaking grand final losses.

“It’ll be hard to watch, but I think we’ll do that probably Tuesday or Wednesday when we do our team review and our individual reviews,” McLuggage said.

“No doubt we’ll all have things throughout the game that we probably won’t enjoy watching, but that’s how you learn, that’s how you get better.”

Lions co-captain Harris Andrews insisted dissecting painful defeats in the past had helped the group ultimately reach the grand final.

“If we push it under the carpet and go ‘it didn’t happen’, then that’ll leave us in a bad place,” the star defender said in the Lions’ rooms on Saturday night.

“But I feel like that’s what this group has done really well, driven by ‘Fages’, our ability to learn from our mistakes.”

-AAP

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