If the Brisbane Lions are looking for an encouraging precedent ahead of Saturday night’s sudden-death semi-final against the GWS Giants at the Gabba they need only go back to 2003.
Looking to win a third consecutive premiership, the powerhouse side coached by Leigh Matthews and captained by Michael Voss lost the first final to Collingwood at the MCG.
Having finished the home-and-away season third on the ladder behind minor premiers Port Adelaide and Collingwood, and ahead of fourth-placed Sydney, they fell victim to a poor second half against the Pies.
They had led narrowly at every change after Alastair Lynch kicked three goals in the first 14 minutes, but they kicked only one more goal and were out-scored 0-4 to 3-4 in the final quarter to go down 7-9 (51) to 9-12 (66).
Suddenly they were in foreign territory. In 2001 and 2002 they had enjoyed the smoothest of rides to the grand final, with two Gabba wins. Now they would face one extra final, and potential an interstate preliminary final.
Worse still, Voss, who had undergone knee-surgery mid-season, had badly jarred his knee again in the first quarter. He spent the final quarter on the bench and Matthews admitted later he thought the champion midfielder had played his last game of the year.
But even before the team had left the MCG to return to the team hotel Football Manager Graeme Allan was hatching a plan. His mind went to David Young, one of the premier surgeons in the AFL, and knowing Craig Lambert had a long and close relationship with Young he asked the assistant-coach to make a phone call.
It was after 11pm but Young discussed Voss’ injury with the Lions medicos and club surgeon Jim Fardoulys, and together they devised a course of action
The following morning Voss, who also had feared the worst, stayed in Melbourne for an MRI when the team flew home to Brisbane. On the Monday he visited Fardoulys armed with the scans and was relieved to learn there was no further structural damage and no risk to his long-term future. Just the pain issue.
After Fardoulys had expertly injected some local anaesthetic into Voss’ knee the skipper had a light run Monday afternoon. He walked off the ground with a giant smile and took the rest of the week off. With Fardoulys traveling to each match thereafter to repeat the process, Voss would get through the rest of the gruelling finals campaign.
Not so lucky were Chris Scott and Tim Notting. Scott missed the semi-final against Adelaide at the Gabba the following week with a groin injury, and Notting was suspended. This opened the door for the return from injury of Craig McRae, and a fairytale selection call-up for Richard Hadley, who would play just his second game.
Voss started the game on an exercise bike on the interchange bench but got through unscathed as the Lions again led at every change. But this time there was no falling away. They kicked 7-4 to 2-3 in the final quarter to win by 42 points.
The Lions were still alive and, with Notting back for the injured Marcus Ashcroft. they headed to Sydney for the preliminary final at the Olympic Stadium.
Again they led at every change. And again they ran away with it in the final term, kicking 6-6 to 0-1 to win by 44 points to secure a third consecutive grand final berth against Collingwood.
But again the win came at a price. As the siren sounded a wounded Nigel Lappin sat glumly on the bench. He went with Dr Paul McConnell to Concorde Hospital and several painstaking hours later X-rays confirmed a broken rib.
As football legend tells us, Lappin later punctured his lung in a Friday fitness test after coach Matthews had made only change for the premiership decider, leaving out Notting to make way for Ashcroft to return for what would be his last game.
Amid all sorts of medical dramas, and with his best mate Chris Scott strapped and ready to play if Lappin could not, the ever-courageous midfielder made a late call to take his place in the side.
The rest, as they say, is history. With Simon Black collecting a career-best 39 possessions to win the Norm Smith Medal the Lions won by 50 points to complete a remarkable premiership hat-trick.
It had been a long, tough journey through September as they made the most of a second chance they had earned via 14 wins and a draw in the home and away season.
The 2019 Lions have earned a second chance, too, via 16 home-and-away wins. And on Saturday night against GWS they, too, and will be looking to do just as their 2003 predecessors did and make it count.