Shocked Harris Andrews has made an impassioned plea for free agent Darcy Gardiner to stay at the Lions as the brutal post-mortem of the heavy preliminary final defeat begins.
Brisbane have exceeded expectations by winning two finals – over Richmond, then Melbourne – to push for another berth in their first finals since 2004, but fell short by 71 points against Geelong on Friday night.
The Lions are already promising a different look next year, with the consensus No.1 draft pick, father-son prospect Will Ashcroft set to arrive and strong links to out-of-contract Bulldog Josh Dunkley.
Daniel McStay will soon reveal his intention to join Collingwood as a free agent, but it is less certain what will happen to reliable defender Gardiner, who was arguably Brisbane’s best player against the Cats.
Gardiner held Cameron to just one goal in 97 minutes against the triple All-Australian despite Geelong scoring almost 60 inside 50s.
The 26-year-old, who has played 153 games, is a restricted free agent, so the Lions can match any offer he potentially receives.
“We love and respect him very much. He’s one of our great trademark players,” Andrews said.
“The way he puts his body on the line, week in and week out; sometimes he’s a little bruised and bruised, but every week he gets on his horse, gets out and plays well.
“I am sure that everything will take care of itself. He is well-loved at the football club, so we absolutely want to keep him.”
Andrews said the loss left a “sick taste” in his mouth, and he went so far as to apologize to Lions fans for what they had in store.
But the vice-captain vowed Brisbane would do everything possible to come back bigger and better for the 2023 season, with Geelong serving as an inspiration.
“You look at teams like the Cats for example – they’ve played in 12 of their last 16 preliminary matches and we want as a football club to have that kind of consistent success,” Andrews said.
“To play in two preliminary games in three years is exciting, but obviously we couldn’t take the next step in those big preliminary games.
“But I still felt we made some strides this year, in supposedly stopping the hooliganism at the MCG and also winning a couple of grand finals.
“There’s definitely so much opportunity (for improvement) ahead of us.”
The Lions could claim a special consolation prize on Sunday night if star midfield Lachie Neill can win his second Brownlow Medal in three years.
“It would be great for him to get an award for the great year he’s had,” Andrews said.
“He’s one of the great team players and it’s going to hurt a lot, but I’m sure the boys will get around him and put their arms around him if he does win.”