Lions may take time to settle despite being written off
THE doomsayers were quick to write off Brisbane during the pre-season.
"In for a world of pain", lamented Essendon great turned special comments man Matthew Lloyd on Melbourne radio after the Lions had suffered a 131-point loss to Hawthorn in their first-round NAB Challenge match.
"I'm not sure that everything is that happy up there in Brisbane."
The result followed a tumultuous end to 2013, highlighted by the "exodus" out of Brisbane of five youngsters who had clicked their heels together, closed their eyes and said "there's no place like home".
The Velvet Sledgehammer - as Lloyd is "fondly" known - may be a little wide of the mark, however.
Take Tom Rockliff, Pearce Hanley, Brent Moloney, Daniel Rich, Joel Patfull and a host of other senior stars out of your team when it's playing the reigning premier and you're a good chance to get flogged.
Take out Elliot Yeo, Jared Polec, Sam Docherty, Billy Longer and Patrick Karnezis and, well, the Gabba surface is not going to cave in.
Yes, the Go-Home Five were all first or second-round draft selections, and Yeo (now at West Coast) and Docherty (at Carlton) will certainly be missed running off halfback in the years to come.
But, Longer (St Kilda) was always going to play second-fiddle to Matty Leuenberger, Polec (Port Adelaide) may just be the type of character that could only ever blossom at home, while Karnezis (Collingwood) may never live up to his early potential no matter where he is.
So, while the drafts of 2010 and 2011 have turned out to be busts for Brisbane, you only to have to look at Hawthorn, which has been left with just Grant Birchall from eight first and second-round picks from 2005 and 2006, to see how much a club can still progress with some shrewd trading, and a change of luck when gambling at the draft table.
The Lions have traded in ruckman Trent West (Geelong) and tall forwards Luke McGuane (Richmond) and Jackson Paine (Collingwood).
But they look to have found a future champion with their top draft pick from 2013, James Aish (pictured), the prodigy who played in the last two SANFL premierships with Norwood, the first as a 16-year-old.
Aish is among the favourites for this year's Rising Star award, and will eventually settle into an impressive post-Simon Black midfield with Tom Rockliff, Daniel Rich, Jack Redden and fellow teenager Sam Mayes.
Though part of the famed Aish footballing family of South Australia, the now 18-year-old expects to be in for the long haul at Brisbane, saying: "I am pretty confident I will be happy here".
The Lions certainly won't have any trouble holding on to Sunshine Coast lad Jono Freeman (198cm), picked up as a Queensland Zone selection and possessing all the attributes required to make it as one of the tall forwards once Jonathan Brown has retired, alongside promising 2012 second-round draftee Michael Close (196cm), who is yet to debut but kicked three goals in the NAB Challenge win over Gold Coast.