Chris Fagan, a football crusader for the everyday man, is heading into a fortnight in which he will claim an irrefutable place in AFL history.
Set to coach his 100th game against North Melbourne in Hobart on Saturday four days short of his 60th birthday, Fagan will be the 86th AFL coaching centurion and the oldest by a staggering seven years.
And in what is an amazing achievement for a man who did not play at AFL level, when he takes charge against Geelong at the Gabba on Thursday next week he will become just the seventh person in League history to coach beyond his 60th.
Fagan is set to add another line to his own trail-blazing career as he becomes just the third 100-game AFL coach behind John Worrall and ex-Adelaide and Melbourne coach Neil Craig who did not play in the elite competition.
A Tasmanian Football Hall of Famer who had long stints in coaching and football administration roles at Melbourne and Hawthorn before joining Brisbane, Fagan has been a football historian’s delight since he took the Lions to a two-point win over Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium in his first game in charge in Round 1 2017.
Then aged 55 years 275 days, proving the coaching caper is not all about young stars fresh out of the playing ranks, he was the oldest coaching debutant in AFL history.
Only seven others have coached for the first time beyond 50, including ex-Lions football boss and ex-Fitzroy player David Noble, who was 53 years 310 days in his first game at the North Melbourne helm this year.
In an ironic but sweet twist of fate, Fagan will return ‘home’ to coach his 100th game in Tasmania against fellow Tasmanian Noble, with whom he shared such a key time in the re-establishment of the Lions as a legitimate AFL force.
Even sweeter is the fact that the Round 14 meeting will be Fagan’s first as a coach at Hobart’s Bellerive Oval, not far from the old North Hobart Oval, home of Tasmanian football during most of his playing career including premierships with North Hobart in 1980 and ’88.
Fagan will displace ex-StKilda coach Alan Richardson as the League’s oldest 100-gamer coach. Richardson was 53 years 16 days in his 100th in 2018.
The oldest AFL coach is Frank Hughes, who came out of retirement at 71 years 148 days to coach Melbourne in Round 13 1965 when Norm Smith was on representative duties. Second oldest on an all-star list of coaching old-timers is McHale (66) ahead of Kevin Sheedy (65), Mick Malthouse (61) and John Kennedy Snr (60).
Admired and respected.— Brisbane Lions (@brisbanelions) June 15, 2021
The compliments are coming from everywhere ahead of Fages' 100th this weekend ?? pic.twitter.com/iCypS3AY1e
Fagan, the 11th Brisbane coach, is the club’s fourth 100-gamer behind Leigh Matthews (237), Robert Walls (109) and Michael Voss (109).
Walls, inducted into the Lions Hall of Fame in 2019, has a special place in club history – he is also one of just two 100-game Fitzroy coaches. He coached Fitzroy 115 times. The other 100-gamer among 40 Fitzroy coaches was Bill Stephen (212).
Fagan’s 100th game will be a celebration for most of the Lions’ football team on Saturday.
Significantly, in a pointer to the club’s recent success, the man in charge has had virtually the same off-field team throughout his five-year reign.
The only significant change was forced this year by Noble’s appointment as North coach and saw long-time strategy coach Danny Daly step up into Noble’s role and Mark Stone, former assistant-coach at Sydney, Fremantle at West Coast and a SANFL premiership coach with Glenelg, take Daly’s role.
Otherwise, the 15 others who might be considered a more senior part of the off-field ‘team’ have enjoyed every step of the Fagan journey with him – assistant-coaches Murray Davis, Ben Hudson, Dale Tapping and Jed Adcock, Head of Development Scott Borlace, Reserves coach Mitch Hahn, Academy head coach Josh Hunt and fellow Academy pair Paul Henriksen and Zane Littlejohn, High Performance Manager Damien Austin, medical chief Peter Blanch, List Manager Dom Ambrogio, Recruiting Manager Steve Conole, Welfare & Well-Being Manager Andrew Crowell and Football Administration Manager Nicole Duncan.
Only Daly, Davis, Hudson, Borlace, Hahn, Austin, Canole and Duncan were at the club before Fagan’s appointment by a panel that comprised CEO Greg Swann, Noble, Brownlow Medallist Simon Black, ex-Hawthorn coach Peter Schwab and psychologist Matti Clements.
THE FAGAN FACT FILE
Born in Queenstown, Tasmania, he has a Bachelor of Education and is a teacher by profession.
His first name isn’t Chris or Christopher … it’s Christian.
He played 263 games with Hobart, Sandy Bay and Devonport, represented Tasmania 11 times and coached the Tassie Mariners Under 18 team from 1995-97.
He got his AFL break in 1998 when appointed Reserves coach at Melbourne by then senior coach Neale Daniher. In 2014 Daniher said famously that “finding Chris Fagan was the best recruiting decision I made in all my time at Melbourne”. The pair remain very close even today as Daniher continues to fight Motor Neurone Disease.
Fagan will take a 49-50 win/loss record into in his 100th game – an outstanding result after he started 5-17 in each of his first two years when the focus was all about development. His best records are against Gold Coast (7-1), Carlton (4-1), Fremantle (4-1) and Hawthorn (4-2).
Hobart’s Bellerive Oval will be the 14th different venue where Fagan has coached. Not surprisingly, the Gabba has been his favourite hunting ground. He’s 30-22 at ‘home’ after starting 5-17 in the first two years. He’s 38-23 in Queensland, having gone 7-1 at Metricon and 1-0 at Cazaly’s Stadium in Cairns.
Fagan has coached 64 different players at the Lions, including 34 debutants. Of his 99 games, Dayne Zorko and Eric Hipwood have played 94, but with Zorko to miss the visit to Hobart through suspension Hipwood will head a top 10 that includes Hugh McCluggage (94), Daniel Rich (91), Harris Andrews (89), Dan McStay (87),Darcy Gardiner (86), Mitch Robinson (80), Jarrod Berry (77) and Stefan Martin (76).
Only eight members of the first Fagan side are still at the club – Zorko, Hipwood, Andrews, Rich, McStay, Gardiner, Robinson and Ryan Lester. Another six are playing elsewhere – Tom Rockliff and Sam Mayes (Port Adelaide), Martin (Western Bulldogs), Ben Keays (Adelaide), Lewis Taylor (Sydney) and Tom Cutler (Essendon).
FAGAN’S FAVORITE WINS
Asking the coach to nominate his favourite wins would be like asking him to choose between his wife and children so we’ll pick a few.
Round 15 2017 V Essendon at Docklands
It was the Lions first interstate win under Fagan. They trailed at every change and were 27 points down early in the last term but won by eight points after two goals from 99th-gamer Rohan Bewick followed by goals to Josh Walker, a red-hot Eric Hipwood, Ryan Bastinac and Ryan Lester wrapped it up. Lester took a huge pack mark and goaled two minutes from the end to seal the first time since 2013 that the club had won after trailing at each change. Dayne Zorko was best afield with 30 possessions and two goals.
A WIN IN THE WEST
Round 15 2018 v Fremantle at Perth Stadium
The Lions, second-last on the ladder with one win in their first 12 games, made their first visit to the new AFL stadium in Perth and banked their first win in the WA capital since 2009. They prevailed by 55 points after out-scoring the Dockers in each quarter, with Dayne Beams, Stefan Martin and Jarrod Berry picking up the Brownlow Medal votes.
THE LUKE HODGE CUP
Round 9 2018 v Hawthorn at the Gabba
The Lions were 0-8 and desperately trying to avoid equalling the club's all-time worst start to a season of 0-9 in 1991. It was dubbed the 'Luke Hodge Cup' as the ex-Hawk skipper played against his former club for the first time, and after trailing 1-0 to 4-0 the home side blew the Hawks away. Up 11 points at half time and 27 at three-quarter time, they banged on 7-3 to 2-4 in the fourth quarter to win by 56 points going away. It was a breakout game for Hugh McCluggage but the most memorable moment was the match-winning first goal from Matt Eagles in the closing minutes of his third game.
A BIG SCALP
Round 1 2019 v West Coast at the Gabba
Brisbane became the first side in AFL history to knock off the premiers in the first game of their premiership defence after having finished as low as 15th the year before. In a sign of things to come, the Lions were 27 points down at quarter-time but kicked 14-7 to 2-8 thereafter to win by 44 points. Lachie Neale, Jarryd Lyons and Lincoln McCarthy played their first game in Lions colors in what old-timers said was the best night of football at the Gabba in 10 years.
A TRIPLE CENTURY
Round 2 2019 v North Melbourne at Docklands
Significant because it was the 300th in club history. The Lions were 10 points down 10 minutes into the final term but kicked six of the last seven goals to win by 20 points. Lachie Neale was best afield with 43 disposals in a game which, quite succinctly, a club old-stager said was one the ‘old’ Lions would have lost. A positive sign for the future.
A BRILLIANT START
Round 7 2019 v Sydney at the Gabba
It was the Lions’ first win over Sydney since 2009. A shaky two points up at halftime after leading by 28 points at quarter time, they kicked 7-11 to 5-3 in the second half to win by 22. It gave them their best start to a season since 2004 at 5-2 and saw them fourth on the ladder – their highest position at Round 7 since 2004. Dayne Zorko was best afield with 29 possessions, 11 tackle, 11 clearances and a goal.
McCARTHY MAGIC: FOR HIS POP
Round 16 2019 v GWS at Sydney Showgrounds
A breakout win and the Lions’ first against GWS since 2013 after an 0-6 run. Billed as a huge test, it was 5th v 4th at the Sydney Showgrounds, where the Lions had never won. But after a brilliant 4-4 to 1-2 first quarter they were never headed and won by 20 points. Lincoln McCarthy put in arguably the best performance of his career as the side wore black armbands following his grandfather's death, and his good mate Lachie Neale was best afield in his 150th AFL game.
AGAINST THE OLD CLUB
Round 17 2019 v Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval
In shockingly wet conditions the Lions kicked the first seven goals of the game and won by eight goals. Ex-Crows Charlie Cameron and Jarryd Lyons starred, with Cameron kicking four goals in his 100th game and Lyons taking best afield honours with 36 possessions, nine tackles and nine clearances.
Round 21 2019
On an unforgettable weekend when it snowed in the Friday night game between Hawthorn and GWS, when North scored their lowest score ever (1-8-14) against Geelong, and when the Bulldogs kicked 21 unanswered goals to beat Essendon by 104 points, Brisbane scored the biggest ever Q-Clash win. Charlie Cameron kicked a career-best six goals to be best afield as four times in the final quarter the margin topped 100 points. Two late Suns goals meant the coach had to be content with a 91-point margin – still the biggest of his coaching career and in Q-Clash history.
TOP OF THE TABLE
Round 22 2019 v Geelong at the Gabba
It was the second-placed Lions against the ladder-leading Cats and pulled a sell-out Gabba crowd of 35,608 - the biggest ever against Geelong and the biggest overall at the Gabba since 2010. And that on a weekend in which the Broncos had pulled only 23,643 on the Thursday night. The Lions, on a seven-game winning streak, trailed at every change but kicked 6-7 to 3-7 in the second half and 4-3 to 2-5 in fourth quarter to win in the last minute. Down by 18 points with 18mins to play they kicked the last three goals via Jarryd Lyons, Charlie Cameron and, with about 87sec to play, Lincoln McCarthy after he soared over the back of Jack Henry to pull in a chest mark and converted from 30m. It put the Lions on top of the ladder for the first time since Rounds 1-2 2007. Charlie Cameron kicked five goals to earn three Brownlow votes as the Lions beat Geelong for the first time since 2013. So special was it that Leigh Matthews visited the Lions rooms after the match for the first time since he stepped down as coaching to give Fagan a huge hug.
THE BEST WIN
Qualifying Final 2020 v Richmond at the Gabba.
In a results business, it’s the most significant win of the Fagan era because it was a finals win. The Lions beat the 2017-19-20 premiers by 15 points to end a drought against the Tigers of 15 games over 11 years and complete the Fagan ‘kill sheet’ – a win against every opposition. Down by a goal at quarter time, the Lions won by 15 points to post the club’s first finals win since 2009 and put them into their first preliminary final since 2004. Daniel Rich was best afield from Hugh McCluggage, Charlie Cameron and Harris Andrews.
Round 3 2021 v Collingwood at Docklands
An absolute thriller at Docklands on Easter Thursday. Zac Bailey kicked a goal from 40m in front after the siren to give the Lions a win which had more subplots than a best-selling novel. It came after a controversial Round 2 one-point loss to Geelong when Bailey should have received a free kick in the goal square to kick the winner. The siren sounded as Bailey moved in to take his kick, and although it was drowned out by Collingwood booing he 'flushed' it and even before it went through he turned to his teammates and was mobbed. The game, originally scheduled for the Gabba on Easter Thursday, was shifted after Brisbane had a Covid outbreak and was put into lockdown. The players, having travelled south for the Geelong game expecting to stay only two days, found themselves facing up to three weeks away - if not more. Playing without Oscar McInerney after an 0-2 start, they led for just 3min20sec - all in the first quarter - and trailed at every change. They were 25 points down midway through second term and found a way to win without producing their very best.
The coach was effusive in the post-game media conference, noting it was a game that would long be remembered. Harris Andrews and Hugh McCluggage (28 possessions) shared the big votes from the coaches but there were heroes everywhere. Joe Daniher, in his first Brisbane win, beat All-Australian defender Darcy Moore with 18 possessions, eight marks and three goals. Daniel Rich had 28 possessions and 637m gained. Lachie Neale, under an injury cloud all week, did his bit after the coach said "he could easily have not played and been better next week". Tom Fullarton battled away magnificently in the ruck and Mitch Robinson bounced back to top form. Said Fagan: "This is my fifth year with this group. As a footy club we were no good four years ago, and that group of boys have found a way to become a good football side. They’ve got plenty of grit … you have to have that to get to where they've got themselves to. It's only one game … but it's a win that is full of meaning for us. When the players look back on that game it’ll put a smile on their faces. It'll put a smile on mine."