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A year to remember for the Lions' NEAFL side

Hahn reflects on the NEAFL season NEAFL Premiership winning coach, Mitch Hahn, reflects on a great season in the reserves.

In 2016 The Brisbane Lions NEAFL side collected just three wins. Twelve months later they were crowned 2017 Champions.

Mitch Hahn was appointed coach of the NEAFL side at the start of the season, after previously working as a backline and defensive coach for the Lions Senior side.

Many would have thought Hahn had inherited a basket-case but he disagrees.

“Their general attitude was really optimistic,” he explains.

A new Coach and a new Senior Coach in Chris Fagan encouraged fresh ideas, which allowed the players to start again. 

“Players are really energised, rejuvenated from that process and they’re all trying to find their feet and I suppose please their new coaches.”

The gods seemed to be working against them just as the season was due to kick off. Their Round 1 NEAFL game was moved from Brisbane to Sydney’s Blacktown due to Cyclone Debbie’s after affects in South-East Queensland.

The Lions cubs put the distraction well and truly behind them by defeating the Swans by four goals and in turn stunning the competition.

It was the first time Brisbane had defeated Sydney in the NEAFL competition since the 2013 Grand Final. 

“Confidence is really important. And I feel like we got that in our first game,” Hahn says.

The next week was not any easier – as they travelled to Darwin to meet the NT Thunder. Again they created history with their first win in the Top End.

“We achieved a lot of things that we hadn’t achieved before.”

These wins helped the side start to gather momentum and at one stage during the season they enjoyed a 10-game winning streak, the longest they’ve held.

But Hahn says the team did not even realise this, as they remained focused on the job at hand – winning that weekend.

“I suppose when you look up and take a breath and you see people start writing articles ‘Brisbane have won 10 in a row’ you don’t actually realise it until then.”

One of the more difficult roles for Hahn is handling players’ disappointment when they are demoted from the Senior side to play in NEAFL.

“Each week it’s an emotional rollercoaster for our players. Being selected, not being selected and how do you then take that attitude into a game,” he says.

“As a Senior Coach absolutely, our job is to make sure our players are playing Senior football and to give them the best opportunity.”

Hahn would watch how dropped players would respond. For some it was their first taste of NEAFL after years of playing AFL, which was a hard adjustment.

“If they come back with the right attitude and they play their role and they have good spirit then it gives them every opportunity,” he said.

Ryan Bastinac and Josh Walker both spent time in the NEAFL side and when they returned to AFL they played some of their finest footy yet.

“They really bought into the program. You could see when they went back up into the Seniors they didn’t come back. Earlier on we had Jarrod Berry and Hugh McCluggage play the first game and then we didn’t see them again, which is fantastic.”

The experienced pair both became leaders for the young team, which featured nine 19-year-olds. With such a young group, Hahn and his coaching staff decided to choose a different captain each week.

“Giving guys the opportunity to be a leader each week certainly would help their development within footy,” he says.

“We’re really happy that we were able to do that. It’s interesting looking back now and you see which guys captained in which week.”

For the Grand Final the players voted on their choice as leader. Claye Beams narrowly edged Matt Eagles for the honour.

Grand Final Week will go down as one of the most action-packed in Hahn’s life. The team held their last training session on the Thursday night before, when disaster struck. Matthew Hammelmann, the side’s top goalkicker tore his hamstring.

“It was really disappointing for him…he kicked 40 goals for us that year.”

With the final only two days away, Hahn refused to get bogged down.

“The emotional part of it is a really interesting question. I think sometimes you can’t dwell on it. As I keep going back to, the group had a really feeling and a real vibe.”

Just as Hahn was finishing up the side’s final training session for the season he was told to rush home. His wife was ready to welcome their third child.

Little Aria was born late Thursday night and proved to be the NEAFL side’s good luck charm.

The morning of the Grand Final, Hahn flew down to join his team in Sydney. Almost immediately walking on to the grass at the SCG he could feel it, there was something very positive in the air.

It was a tough contest against the Swans, as it had been all year. In the last quarter the Lions held a 20-point lead but Sydney refused to lie down.

“For us to be able to hold on in what was truly a hold on position in the last quarter, 21 inside 50s to 8. It was an amazing achievement. We spoke about playing every second and every minute of that game, which the Swans also did.”

The Lions escaped with a three point victory, with Ben Keays named best on ground.

Singing the song in the sheds was an unforgettable moment, each blood, sweat and tear now worth it.

“The energy of that song was a relief,” he says.

“It was great because we had a lot of families that were there. Chris Fagan said ‘let’s get all the families into the room’ which was a fantastic idea because we are a real family Club.”

Hahn is hesitant to say the Grand Final victory has made a statement on the Lions’ future but he does believe it shows the Club is heading in the right direction.

“It wasn’t just us, it was the women’s who started it. They were able to play in a Grand Final and got us on the landscape again.”

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs