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Footy Fix: AFL heats up this Easter

Rohan Connolly gives his tips for all the match action over this Easter long weekend.

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That's all for today, folks, join us back here next Thursday at 12pm. Thanks for the questions and comments, let's hope the Easter round is every bit as good as was round one. If the standard continues like it's started, we're in for a great season!

AFL TEAMS do so much homework on their opposition these days that there should seldom be any unpleasant surprises around the corner, but Carlton might well be viewing tonight's clash with the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba a little differently now to even five days ago.

Before then, the Blues, with designs on this season's top four, if not significantly more, would have been justifiably confident about taking care of an opponent popularly tipped to finish far closer to the bottom.

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After the Lions' second-half dismantling of Melbourne last Saturday, while that confidence won't have evaporated, it will be laced with greater wariness.

Big calls after just one AFL game are notoriously fraught with danger, but few who witnessed Brisbane's 41-point touch-up of the Demons on the MCG, a venue at which it had won just one of its previous 11 starts, would have come away thinking anything other than here was a team clearly on the rise.

The first signs were displayed last year, even in the course of just four victories, the Lions having lost a further seven games by 18 points or less, a fine line indeed.

But last Saturday, even away from its Gabba comfort zone, Brisbane seemed to have grown another leg again. Simon Black, along with skipper Jonathan Brown, has remained the constant in some of Michael Voss' team's darkest hours.

Black was superb again against the Demons.

But this time, even with Brown absent, he had support coming from everywhere.

In the shape of Tom Rockliff, a best-and-fairest winner, but now with seemingly a newer string to his bow, as a dangerous forward whose three goals could easily have been eight.

In the forms of small-to-medium forwards such as Todd Banfield and James Polkinghorne, who shared six goals.

In the rising to another level of Irishman Pearce Hanley, whose running, evasive goal to the Punt Road end was the stuff of a seasoned veteran, not a player still supposedly learning the game. Or his compatriot, Niall McKeever, smart and resolute in defence.

All of a sudden, Brisbane seems to have talented youth popping up everywhere, and we're no longer just talking here about Rockliff, Jack Redden or ruckman Matthew Leuenberger.

Claye Beams played only five games last year because of a foot injury, but impressed in those, and offered a potent reminder in a game good enough to score him this week's Rising Star nomination.

Jared Polec, the No. 5 pick in the 2010 draft, was a very similar story to Beams last year, restricted to just three games, but the skilful left-footer against Melbourne looked ready to show what that fuss was about.

Ditto Rohan Bewick and Mitch Golby.

Carlton heads to the Gabba aware its history there, even when Brisbane was at its worst, hasn't been great, and in some cases, particularly painful.

The Blues probably hit their lowest ebb as a club there five years ago, the day they were smashed by 117 points in a humiliation that cost Denis Pagan his coaching job and led, temporarily at first, to the appointment of Brett Ratten.

And that elimination final loss in 2009, when Carlton managed to throw away a six-goal lead with a last-quarter collapse, still rankles with the Blues.

Ratten, and the current players still on the books, won't forget that one in a hurry.

But the coach will also be conscious that while the 2009 version of Brisbane was indeed a finalist, this version has less kudos, though far more potential. And that potential, as demonstrated last Saturday, is being realised rather rapidly.