At the beginning of 2023 the Brisbane Lions women’s program was staring down the barrel of another player exodus.
Three All-Australian talents departed the Den to join rival clubs.
The departing premiership trio was four-time Club Best and Fairest Emily Bates, leader and influential forward Greta Bodey and reigning league leading goalkicker Jesse Wardlaw.
These big blows left, what seemed to many, like irreplaceable holes in the Lions lineup.
Enter Dakota Davidson and Belle Dawes.
Both premiership players in 2021, the pair took on new, tougher assignments, expanding their roles from previous seasons much to delight of Lions supporters around the country.
Davidson was propelled into the footballing spotlight taking on the role of key forward in a new-look Lions attack.
“Jesse (Wardlaw) leaving was scary,” Davidson admitted.
“She took away all the pressure and I just played footy, I looked at myself in the mirror and said ‘you have to step up here, you’re the next key forward’.
“It was difficult part of my career but it was an opportunity for someone to come through, so I took it in my stride to become better.”
Despite the added pressure of being the main tall target, Davidson’s 2023 was fruitful.
Awarded All-Australian honours for the first time in her career, booted 23 goals - including two clutch majors - Davidson’s year propelled the Lions toward eventual premiership glory.
“It was tough, it was a lot of pressure, I felt like I had to be the hero,” she admitted.
“A lot of media went around but I thrive under pressure and enjoyed every minute of it”.
For Dawes it was the reassurance that Lions AFLW senior coach Craig Starcevich trusted her to fill the void left in the midfield.
“Emily (Bates) obviously left, and Craig said to me ‘you don’t have to change anything,’” Dawes revealed.
“He said ‘you don’t have to be anything else, we love what you do, just keep doing what you’re doing’.
“Knowing I had trust from Craig and the girls to get the job done, really helped me mentally going into the season.”
It wasn’t a foreign concept to Dawes to adapt through her career, but she felt well equipped to handle the change in role.
“We are such an adaptable team, we were training at Yeronga, we didn’t have hot water, or ice baths, we didn’t have a home ground,” the charismatic midfielder explained.
“The core group is so used to rolling with the punches, as long as we’re all together we love it.
“This year we had no choice, you’re going to have to go back (to this position), it was a weird shock to the system but look how much it helped us.”
A selection in the AFLPA’s 22under22 squad in 2023 celebrated what was a stellar year for Dawes who truly took her new opportunity with both hands.
A starring role across the finals series and in the big dance for both young talents, 2024 shapes to be an exciting watch.