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Science and luck: How the Lions' list has come together

You might not know much about Noah Answerth. At least not yet. He's a first-year player for the Brisbane Lions who has managed 11 games in his debut season, settling in seamlessly in the club's backline.

But Answerth embodies the shrewd, smart and targeted recruiting which has rocketed the Lions into premiership contention this season. 

Brisbane was interested in Answerth at the end of 2017, when he was first eligible for the draft, but didn't have a rookie selection and he had missed most of the season with a fractured back.

He came back and played well for Oakleigh last year as an over-aged player and again the Lions tracked him closely, but they ran out of picks to select him at last year's draft. 

That was until they called North Melbourne. In the first draft where picks were able to be swapped 'live' during the draft, Brisbane traded its 2019 future fourth-round pick for the Roos' pick 55 and swooped on Answerth.

They had identified his pace, rebound and ability to play as a small defender as an area of need and traded in to the draft to grab him. He hasn't let them down yet, with the 19-year-old becoming a regular senior player.

 

Brisbane's rise up the ladder has been borne from a mix of factors: a coach and football manager setting the plan and driving it; a development program that is well resourced and run; a productive Academy; a playing group that is young, close and committed and a recruiting team that has followed a clear strategy.

Of the Lions line-up that comprehensively beat Port Adelaide on the weekend, 10 of the players were drafted by recruiting manager Stephen Conole, who has steered the club's recruiting division since 2012. Hugh McCluggage and Eric Hipwood would have boosted that number to 12 if not for injuries.

Eight of the team were additions as either free agents or trades since 2014, with list manager Dom Ambrogio landing stars Charlie Cameron and Lachie Neale in successive off-seasons, while four players (Dayne Zorko, Stefan Martin, Daniel Rich and Ryan Lester) have been on the list longer-term.

There has been some decisive recruiting calls that have shaped Brisbane's rise into third place. 

In 2017, the Lions traded picks 20 and 25 to Richmond to move up five spots to No.15 to ensure they could get Zac Bailey at that spot. Several clubs were interested in the pick, and had Essendon kept their No.11 selection that season they would likely have taken Bailey. 

But the Lions jumped up and wanted Bailey's speed, agility and upside. 

The year previous saw them take a bigger risk. They completed a deal with the Giants, giving up pick 2, 31, 51 and 60 in exchange for GWS' picks three and 16.

The Lions rated McCluggage at No.1 and would have taken him with the first pick in the draft. At pick No.2, they knew they'd get one of him or Andy McGrath. Moving back to pick three meant there was a risk they would miss out on both, but they were willing to take that gamble to add another first-round pick.

That McCluggage got through to their selection was the Lions' hope that came true. If McGrath and McCluggage had been the top-two selected (instead of McGrath and Tim Taranto), the Lions would have grabbed Ben Ainsworth at pick No.3 (he went the following selection to Gold Coast at No.4). 

 

The second-part of the deal was where the Lions really had their fingers crossed.

Their best-case scenario was McCluggage's close friend and schoolmate Jarrod Berry being available. Brisbane thought West Coast, which held pick No.13, could grab him but instead chose Daniel Venables, leaving the Lions to take Berry.

There was some science behind 'coupling' close friends together at the club, dating back to Geelong Falcons pair Darcy Gardiner and Lewis Taylor in 2013, but there was also some luck.

If Berry had been off the board, the Lions might have gone with Venables, Will Hayward or just snapped up Alex Witherden earlier (they picked him at No.23 but rated him highly). 

The attrition of a playing list has meant some Lions' picks have moved on – James Aish left to join Collingwood, and Josh Schache returned home to Victoria to land at the Dogs, both after two years in Brisbane.

But the strategy in focusing on prospects from the country, who will have to move to forge an AFL career, was a strong starting point. 

They have moved away from that era, including the 2017 No.1 pick Cam Rayner being from Vic Metro, and have had long-term commitments from most of their young talent to remain in Queensland. 

The list assembled, they can now sense some success on the horizon.

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