Nourishing the tight team connections at the Brisbane Lions is so essential to coach Chris Fagan, he makes 47 phone calls or Zoom chats every week to guarantee it.

No AFL head coach would jump on the phone to every player in his squad in a regular week, but these are extraordinary times in the AFL.

It says much about Fagan’s hands-on, personal style that he’s contacted all 47 players on the Lions’ list on such a regular basis to keep the purpose within his proud improvers ticking.

Calls flew to star midfielder Hugh McCluggage on the family dairy farm in Warrnambool, to teenager Deven Robertson back with his clan in Perth and to all points in between as 16 of the club’s players headed interstate to be in lockdown with their families.

All the while, Fagan has been advancing his own mentality for the AFL reboot by tapping into old mate Neale Daniher’s attitude in adversity and gems from New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick in his latest read, Gridiron Genius.

Fagan hopes a bit of Daniher’s inspirational fight with terminal Motor Neurone Disease permeates his thinking on handling fleeting hardships every day.

The COVID-19 restrictions may have forced the cancellation of the Big Freeze at the MCG fundraiser, but Fagan this week took on an ice bucket challenge at home in Brisbane.

Lions forward Eric Hipwood did the dunking which had everyone laughing because the photographer needed it done THREE times to get it just right.

It highlighted that $20 FightMND beanies are on sale at, Coles and Bunnings stores to add more research funds to the remarkable $37.6 million already contributed by Daniher’s foundation since 2014.

“I’m grateful to Neale forever – one, for giving me a job in the AFL at Melbourne footy club (in 1998) when my background in Tassie didn’t suggest I’d necessarily get one in coaching,” Fagan said.

“Knowing him and having been on the journey with him for the past 20-odd years has been the greatest benefit to me just learning from a top-class person.

“Most of us would struggle to know how to start the fight but he’s decided, with the time he has left on earth, to do as much as he can to find a cure for the thing that’s going to kill him.

“His incredible attitude is actually a really good story to be thinking of in the situation all of us find ourselves in.

“When I run into little hurdles, I often think how would Neale handle this.

“It often changes the way I deal with things and helps me to feel stronger on days when I don’t feel so strong.”

Practically, the Daniher factor flipped Fagan’s whole thinking on the quarantine “hubs” idea to get the AFL rolling again.

“I must admit, when I first heard the outcry, I thought of all the negatives and it being tough on families,” Fagan said.

“Thinking of Neale made me reflect that going into hubs isn’t a permanent thing, it’s not going to kill us, nor is it going to jail.

“It’s just putting up with some inconvenience to get the game back on its feet.”

Fagan realises the AFL season will be nothing like any player or coach has coped with before when it returns with shortened quarters, a revamped draw, empty stadiums and transformed game-day routines.

Playing at an empty MCG for the 28-point loss to Hawthorn on March 22 was a weird, disorientating day when the club’s previous visit to the “G” seven months earlier had been in front of a pumping crowd of 76,995 to face Richmond.

“The good thing about that one game was getting the experience of playing in an empty stadium because, suddenly, there wasn’t that big energy to feed off that the players got last year,” Fagan said.

“All the routines the boys have around travel and hotels were blown out of the water that weekend ... we couldn’t go to the gym, we couldn’t go get a coffee, all those little things players build into their routines to get to the starting line.

“I’m not critical of them for being unsettled because it was a really crazy reason.

“We’ll be better going into that environment again ... the boys might have hated no crowd but now we are all just eager to get playing again.”

The strategies to keep the players connected have not been haphazard, but an impressive joint effort with Fagan’s assistant coaches even though they have been stood down.

Midfield coach Dale Tapping has done some landscaping work and development coaches Paul Henriksen and Zane Littlejohn have picked up short-term teaching contracts while still phoning and supporting players in five-man groups.

“I’ve probably been making 60-odd phone calls a week ranging in length from five minutes to an hour, and it’s not just me but everyone in the club doing an excellent job to stay connected in a hard time,” Fagan said.

“We live a very routine-orientated life and suddenly it was all out the door with no footy, so getting purpose and routine in our lives to get up and going when the time arrives is really important.

“We have guys who’ve done extra study in their business courses, blokes who have improved their fitness and others improving skills.”

Skipper Dayne Zorko, Daniel Rich and co have sharpened their golf as members at Brookwater Golf and Country Club for the past seven weeks, while Melbourne-based players have been shut-out at Victorian courses.

There’s plenty of wisdom for Fagan in Super Bowl king Belichick’s attention to game-week detail in the NFL and strategies like signing those who best fit his Patriots’ system, rather than the best players.

Fagan has no potion bottled from last year’s heady run to the finals to sprinkle over the squad to guarantee another exciting run.

“I think the magic is there’s no magic,” Fagan said.

“Our boys have become really good at understanding continual improvement, growth mindset or whatever buzzword you want to call it.

“It didn’t show in wins initially (to start 2018) but we knew we were getting better on what we could measure in games and, last year, all that improvement turned into wins.

“It becomes harder because expectations and stuff goes up, but that’s perfectly OK.

“If we are ever going to be a real good side you have to be able to live with expectation and embrace it.”

When the draw is redrafted, Fagan doesn’t want the Lions to lose the respect they won in the original 2020 draw, because the Easter Thursday blockbuster against Collingwood (April 9) and a Friday night feature against premiers Richmond (May 8) never got to be played.

“The big clubs get to play in that finals-like environment on a regular basis throughout the season and we have earned the right as part of the growth of our team, so hopefully we can keep that going in the new draw,” Fagan said.