Shaun Hart was almost done as an AFL player at the end of 1991. The pocket-sized 20-year-old from Shepparton had played 17 games in two years with the Brisbane Bears but was facing an early end to his career.
As then coach Robert Walls would reveal many years later, the last spot on the 1992 Brisbane playing list came down to a choice between Hart, foundation player Brenton Phillips and fellow youngster Lachlan Sim.
Phillips, best afield in the Bears’ first game in 1987, had averaged 20.8 possessions through nine games in 1991 but was going on 29. Sim, nearly 22, had averaged 14.1 possessions through seven games, and Hart had averaged 13.8 possessions and kicked one goal in six games, with a then personal-best 18 possessions in the last game of the year in a loss to Melbourne at the Gabba.
Walls chose Hart. “Football-wise he was limited, and the only reason he stayed was because of his athleticism and work ethic. He was a far better athlete than the others … super-fit, and he had age on his side,” he said.
“So we decided to use him in a run-with role on the likes of Craig Bradley, John Platten and Tony Shaw. He played on all the good players and he turned into a very good player himself.”
He certainly did – and more – as he went on to play 273 games in a phenomenal career highlighted by a Norm Smith Medal in the club’s 2001 AFL premiership and a key role in the 2002-03 flags.
In Round 20 2001, six weeks before his grand final heroics, Hart played his 200th AFL game to earn headline status in the “Remember When – Round 20” flashback this week.
The Lions, on a 10-game winning streak, sat second on the AFL ladder as they headed to Perth to play bottom side Fremantle at Subiaco.
Hart followed Marcus Ashcroft to become the second of what is now 20 Brisbane players to play 200 games for the club, and the 13th of the extended Lions family after nine players had posted a double century for Fitzroy.
Drafted by the Bears with pick #33 in the 1989 AFL National Draft, Hart was one of five members of the ‘Class of 1989’ to play 200 games. Wayne Campbell, pick #29 to Richmond, headed the list with 297 games, while West Coast picked up three 200-gamers - #4 Peter Matera (253), father/son pick #106 Ashley McIntosh (242) and priority pick Dean Kemp (243).
Hart was a saviour for the club in the 1989 draft, with the club’s seven other picks producing just 16 Brisbane games. Brad Rowe (14) and Jon Solomon (2) were the only others to wear Bears colors from a group which included Tony Paynter (who with Solomon was at the past players’ reunion at the Gabba last Saturday night), Chris Guerts, Joe Wilson, David Brown and Sean Valenta.
Hart played his 200th game as a later-to-be 200-gamer originally from Perth began his AFL journey and another WA product led a 48-point Lions win over the Dockers.
On debut in the Round 20 clash in Perth was Ash McGrath, who had joined the Lions as pick #13 in the 2000 draft. And best afield in his 70th game at 22 was Simon Black, pick #31 in the 1997 draft.
Black, still only 22 at the time, had a game-high 33 possessions (19 contested possessions) and a goal to earn three Brownlow Medal votes in the 21-12 (138) to 12-15 (87) win in which Dylan McLaren, later to play in the 2004 grand final and also at the reunion, shared his debuted with McGrath.
Overall in 33 Round 20 games Brisbane have had 12-2-19 win/loss record.
1997 – It’s a Draw
Daniel Bradshaw kicked plenty of goals throughout his brilliant career where he’d leap high to pull down a strong mark with his iron-like hands and convert with his trademark beautiful drop punt from 50m. But in Round 20 1997 a dribbler that went about 2m was just as valuable.
The Lions, coming off a big MCG loss to North Melbourne in Scott McIvor’s 200th and last game, and Port Adelaide, visiting the Gabba for the first time, were level with Fremantle on the edge of the top eight with a 10-9 record.
There would be room for only one of the three sides in the finals in what was the Lions’ first season post-merger and Port’s first season in the AFL. And after the Dockers lost to St.Kilda on the Saturday afternoon the winners of the Gabba showdown that night would be in the box seat.
But when the final siren sounded on a thriller the football world was none the wiser due to an unlikely goal from Bradshaw, who was still only 18 in his 16th game.
Port had led by 29 points at halftime after an 4-6 to 0-2 second quarter, but with a 21-year-old Justin Leppitsch providing a winning target up forward the home side cut it to a point at the last change.
Scott Cummings put the visitors a goal in front and with 12 seconds to play Craig McRae gave the home side one last chance. He kicked long to a big pack 20m from goal. It went over the back and was heading through for a behind until Bradshaw won a short foot-race and just got his right boot to it enough to steer it through for full points. It was 13-15 (93) apiece.
It was the first of a back-to-back Gabba draws between Brisbane and Port, with Shaun Hart kicking an after-the-siren major in Round 12 the following year after intercepting an errant kick-in from Stuart Dew.
It was also a breakout game for Brisbane ruckman Clark Keating, who had been part of the club system since the age of 15. In his 34th game at 21 the young Gold Coaster had 20 possessions, two marks and 16 hit-outs as he battled solo against the highly-regarded Port ruck combination of Brendon Lade and Matthew Primus to earn three Brownlow Medal votes – the first of his career.
The last second Bradshaw nudge for two premiership points went on to prove just enough to get Brisbane into the 1997 finals, and just enough to keep Port out, with the Lions going in on percentage after the teams had finished level on premiership points.
1999 – What a Start
It’s not often a coach walks into half-time comfortable the job is done, but in Round 20 1999 Leigh Matthews could do just that. The Gabba scoreboard on a Sunday afternoon showed Brisbane 21-5 (131) to Fremantle 2-6 (18). Up by 113 points.
It was highest first-half Brisbane score in history, and the third-biggest halftime lead in AFL history behind Brisbane’s 120-point halftime lead against Sydney at the Gabba in 1993.
In his first season in charge, Matthews had the Lions travelling beautifully, and at Round 19 that were 3rd on the AFL ladder with a 13-6 record. Fremantle, 15th at 5-15 and only one win off the bottom, were not expected to challenge the high-flying Lions but the efficiency with which they got the job done was a good sign.
It finished 28-13 (181) to 9-13 (67) as 14 different goal-kickers combined for what is still the club’s fourth highest score. Jarrod Molloy led the way with five goals for three Brownlow Medal votes, while Des Headland, Alastair Lynch and Tim Notting kicked three apiece, and the minor medal votes went to Justin Leppitsch (18 possessions, two goals) and Michael Voss (22 possessions).
2007 – It a Draw – Again!
In 812 games the Brisbane Bears/Lions have played eight draws against Port Adelaide (2), West Coast, Geelong, North Melbourne, Richmond, Sydney and Essendon, with three at the Gabba, two at Marvel Stadium and one each at Carrara, Kardinia Park and the MCG. But only have scores finished level after they were also level at half-time.
It was Round 20 2007 when Brisbane, clinging to 8th spot on the ladder, hosted 6th-placed Sydney at the Gabba. The Swans led by 10 points at the first change before the Lions squared it up at halftime, and by 17 points at three-quarter time before they did it again via Jonathan Brown.
The home side kicked three goals in the first 3min7sec of the final stanza through Chris Johnson, Robert Copeland and Brown to sneak one point in front before Adam Schneider answered for the visitors.
Brown kicked his third goal to edge the Lions clear again before Brett Kirk gave Sydney a six-point buffer with five minutes to play.
Brown, sharing the captaincy with Simon Black, Nigel Lappin, Luke Power and Chris Johnson, had done the job twice. But as good as he was it seemed fanciful to expect him to do it again.
But he did. After a strong mark about 40m out he kicked his fourth and the leveller on the final siren. It was Brisbane 9-9 (63) to Sydney 8-15 (63).
Not surprisingly, Brown’s final quarter triple play earned him three Brownlow Medal votes, while Matthew Leuenberger picked up his first medal vote in just his seventh game for a fine effort against the Sydney ruck combination of Darren Jolly and Peter Everitt.
2008 – One Last Time – for Lethal
The almighty Leigh Matthews era at the Gabba was coming to an end in Round 20 2008, even though nobody knew for sure at the time. Except perhaps ‘Lethal’ himself.
The Lions were just hanging on. They were 9th on the ladder, a game outside the top eight, as the third-placed Western Bulldogs travelled to the Gabba,.
It was no great surprise that the visitors led at every change – by seven points, 10 points and six points. And when they were still six points clear eight minutes into the final stanza all looked to be going to script.
But Michael Rischitelli pulled one goal back for the Lions. Then Daniel Bradshaw did likewise. And then Joel Patfull in an unlikely stay up forward. Brisbane were 14 points up but there were still 12 minutes to play. Plenty of time.
The Dogs had their chances, with the last three scoring shots, but Brisbane hung on 13-12 (90) to 10-19 (79) thanks chiefly to three goals apiece from Jonathan Brown and Rhan Hooper, and a three-vote game from Jared Brennan (17 possessions).
In the end, it didn’t matter. The Lions lost their last two games against Carlton at the Gabba and Sydney in Sydney to finish ninth - half a game outside the eight.
But it was still a significant win. It was the club’s 142nd and last under coach Matthews, who had taken over a club in disarray at the end of the 1998 season and finished with a 142-3-92 record from 237 games in charge, and a 60.6% win rate.