One of the Brisbane Lions’ most unassuming, genuine champions led about 300 fans on the Long Walk to the Gabba on Saturday.

Michael ‘Magic’ McLean addressed the enthusiastic throng of Lions faithful before they departed South Bank on a walk of solidarity designed to celebrate the contribution to the game of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players and keep the plight of Indigenous peoples firmly on the national agenda.

The walkers – young and old, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, and from all walks of life – hung on every word as McLean remembered how there were only ‘six or seven’ Aboriginal players in the old VFL when he began his career at Footscray in 1983.

He went on to say that it gave him great satisfaction to see more than 100 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players in the modern AFL today. As much as he would shrug, McLean can take a chunk of credit for that.

McLean joined the Brisbane Bears in 1991 after 95 games in seven seasons at the old Footscray, now Western Bulldogs, having fought a constant battle with injury.

The 2021 Long Walk arriving in Lion Park

The lithe wingman/half-back/midfielder won the best and fairest award in his first season in Brisbane and repeated the effort in 1993, narrowly beating a young Nathan Buckley for the top prize.

The Bears won just three games in 1991, four in 1992, and four in 1993, receiving some horrible drubbings in the process.

McLean was a shining light, however, showing tremendous courage, skill and determination against the odds. He carried those traits off the field, playing a strong support role alongside Essendon champion Michael Long to introduce the racial vilification code to the AFL.

Long, whose walk from his suburban home in Melbourne to Canberra to push for the fair treatment of Indigenous peoples to be on the national agenda in November 2004, was unable to attend the Gabba Long Walk as had originally been planned due to the Covid lockdown in Victoria.

McLean’s leadership was, and remains, unquestioned.

He was loved, admired and respected by his fellow Aboriginal players, especially those from his home in the Northern Territory, and McLean played a significant part in guiding a young Darryl White and the mercurial Gilbert McAdam, among others during his time at the Gabba, that ended through injury after the Brisbane Lions’ very first game in 1997.

‘Mago’ later became a sounding board and confidante for the likes of Chris Johnson as an assistant coach under Leigh Matthews, coincidentally being chosen alongside White and Johnson in the AFL’s Indigenous Team of the Century.

McLean was joined in addressing the procession of walkers by Queensland sprint champion of the early 2000s Patrick Johnson, who remains the only Australian male to have broken the 10-second barrier for the 100-metre sprint.

AFL Queensland CEO Trisha Squires also spoke about how junior and senior clubs around the State would celebrate the Sir Doug Nicholls Round in a similar manner to the elite players.

Once the walkers had wound their way alongside the river through South Bank and onto Vulture Street, a succession of car horns beeped in support as Lions flags fluttered high in the cool late autumn breeze.

The walkers had a chance to catch their breath before taking their seats in the Gabba for the clash against Greater Western Sydney, observing a powerful welcome to country ceremony before Charlie Cameron, Callum Ah Chee and Keidean Coleman danced out onto the ground ahead of their inspired teammates.

It was most appropriate that the electric Cameron should goal with a dazzling snap within 20 seconds of the opening bounce.

Coleman showed an almost telepathic sense to set up teammates for goals with clever handballs, while Ah Chee was a key part of a defensive unit that knitted together superbly to restrict the Giants to a meagre 15 scoring shots.

There were flashes of Magic McLean in each of their performances, a perfect script for the Lions’ home game in the two Sir Doug Nicholls’ Rounds.