Brandon Ryan will play his first game for the Lions on Sunday and the fourth of his AFL career against the side for which he played his third game just 274 days earlier.

And he’ll follow two of the club’s great first-game fairytales as he becomes the 56th Brisbane player to debut in maroon, gold and blue beyond the age of 26

Only Tony Beckett, a product of QAFL club Mayne, and Matt Eagles, winner of the TV show ‘The Recruit’, have been older in their first game at the elite level in Brisbane colors.

Beckett, the first Queenslander to graduate from local ranks, was three months older when he debuted in the Bears’ second game at Carrara against Melbourne in 1987 - and their first ‘home’ win.

Eagles was 28 on debut - a South Australian playing with Yeronga while operating his own landscaping business when in 2016 he applied to the TV show which offered a guaranteed AFL rookie contract to the winner.

The Lions only took Eagles due to contractual obligations, but after playing a key role in the club’s 2017 NEAFL premiership he earned not just a contract extension but four AFL games in 2018 and a further two games in 2020. A legitimate player.

The story of Brendan Ryan is just as good. Having grown up at Barwon Heads, near Geelong, he graduated from local juniors to Geelong West in the Geelong Football League and earned a two-year contract at North Melbourne. But due to injury problems and Covid he did not play a game.

Post-Covid, thinking his AFL dream was over, he joined the Maribyrnong Park Lions in Melbourne’s Eastern District League before he was lured to the Northern Bullants in the VFL by coach Brodie Holland, a former Fremantle and Collingwood player who from 2009-14 had coached Maribyrnong Park.

Among Holland’s Maribyrnong Park products was Luke Ryan, now a 142-game star at Fremantle,  where he was club champion and All-Australian in 2020. He is cousin of Brendan Ryan.

One thing led to another, and after Brandon Ryan played seven games with the Bullants last year he was picked up by Hawthorn in the Mid-Season Draft on 31 May.

He played in the AFL side in Rounds 20-21-24, kicking three goals in his second game, he now will face as many 17 ex-clubmates when, in something of a fixturing oddity, Brisbane and Hawthorn meet for the first time at Marvel Stadium on Sunday.

It will be an odd situation, with Ryan playing for Brisbane against Hawthorn, and Jack Gunston, a triple Hawthorn premiership player who played with Brisbane last year, playing for Hawthorn against Brisbane after a late off-season decision by Gunston to return ‘home’ prompted a deal in the last hour of the trade period last October which saw the two players swap clubs. 

Gunston, 32, has played six games this year to take his career tally to 248 and returns this week after he was ‘managed’ out of the side that led Port Adelaide until they kicked two goals in the last 33 seconds for a miracle win.

Thirty-one of Ryan’s 2023 Hawthorn clubmates are still there, with only off-season imports Jack Ginnivan (Collingwood), Massimo Dambrosio (Essendon) and Mabior Chol (Gold Coast), draftees Calsher Dear and Nick Watson and pre-season pick-up Ethan Phillips of the Round 10 side new to the club.

Ryan, an athletic 200cm forward who gets his chance after Eric Hipwood’s one-match suspension, has traded his #46 jumper at Hawthorn for the Lions #24, worn 164 times by ex-captain Roger Merrett.

Having seen his #46 at Hawthorn left unallocated this year, Ryan will be eighth player to wear #24 at AFL level for Brisbane. He’ll follow Jamie Duursma (1 game), Merrett, Marcus Picken (25), Llane Spaanderman (3), Joel Patfull (182), Liam Dawson (18) and Marcus Adams (46).

Jumper #24 was worn most often at Fitzroy by Vic Chanter, a 108-game fullback from 1946-52.

A Victorian representative and club champion in 1951, Chanter was Fitzroy vice-captain in 1952 when he played a famous game on Essendon champion John Coleman, named at full forward in in the AFL Team of the Century alongside Leigh Matthews and Haydn Bunton.

In a wet and muddy game at Brunswick Street Oval in Round 10 that year Chanter was the only player ever to hold the 98-game 537-game megachampion goalless.

Ryan will be the 349th Brisbane player all-time and the 129th to play for the club after beginning his AFL career at a rival club. He’ll be just the seventh to play his first Brisbane game against his former club, and the second to do so interstate.

Among these is 1991 Hawthorn premiership player Andy Gowers who, after 89 games with the Hawks from 1998-94, played 51 games with Brisbane from 1994-99, and on Sunday will face Brisbane as Hawthorn president, having unseated ex-Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett in December 2022.

Gowers played his last game for Hawthorn in an overtime qualifying final loss to North Melbourne at Waverley in 1994, and went back to Waverley for his first game with Brisbane in Round 1 1995 only to cop a 57-point loss.

Adding further to the complicated Gowers story of alternating loyalties, inaugural Brisbane coach Peter Knights was his coach at Hawthorn and still the Hawthorn coach on his homecoming.

Blake Caracella, a 2000 Essendon premiership player, did likewise it in Round 1 2003 to begin a stint in Brisbane in which he won another flag.

Caracella finished a 126-game stay at Essendon with a semi-final loss to Port Adelaide in 2002 at Football Park, and began his time in Brisbane with a 43-point Gabba win over the Bombers.

Others to face their old club in their first Brisbane game were Michael Martin (Western Bulldogs) in 2000, Brent Staker (West Coast) in 2010, Luke McGuane (Richmond) in 2014 and Dayne Beams (Collingwood) in 2015.