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One beacon in the gloom

Date

Andrew Stafford, Brisbane

Brisbane's Josh Green celebrates with teammates after kicking a goal.

Brisbane's Josh Green celebrates with teammates after kicking a goal. Photo: Getty Images

BRISBANE LIONS 1.4 9.7 14.12 19.14 (128) WESTERN BULLDOGS 0.3 2.5 4.6 9.7 (61)
GOALS Brisbane Lions: Brown 5, Rich 4, Lisle 2, Bewick 2, Raines, Beams, Green, Polkinghorne, Redden, Hanley. Western Bulldogs: Higgins 2, Cooney, Grant, Picken, Boyd, Wallis, Campbell, Dickson.
BEST Brisbane Lions: Rich, Black, Redden, Brown, Hanley, Beams. Western Bulldogs: Boyd, Cooney, Murphy, Griffen, Lake, Higgins.
INJURIES Brisbane Lions: Drummond (virus) replaced in selected side by Buchanan. Western Bulldogs: Roughead (knee).
REPORTS Zorko (Brisbane Lions) reported for striking Smith in the final quarter.
UMPIRES Stewart, Armstrong, Mitchell.
CROWD 18,289 at Gabba.

THE early standard of this match - the last home-and-away game of 2012 - can be summed up by the final passage of play in the first quarter. Daniel Rich bombed the ball inside 50, to James Polkinghorne, who had positioned himself goal-side of his opponent.

Polkinghorne ran on to the ball, gathered within 10 metres of goal, and dribbled the Sherrin into the post. The siren blew a few seconds later, leaving Brisbane with a score of 1.4 at quarter-time to the Bulldogs' three behinds.

Top Lion:  Best-afield Daniel Rich lets fly to kick one of his four goals yesterday.

Top Lion: Best-afield Daniel Rich lets fly to kick one of his four goals yesterday. Photo: Getty Images

It was a nice day for the footy: a cloudless early spring day in Brisbane, with only the gentlest of breezes. But there would have been plenty of folk at the Gabba - coaches, umpires and especially players - who would have gladly shaken hands and let the matter rest there and then. Mad Monday was close at hand.

Amid the dropped marks, missed targets and general turpitude, Rich was a beacon in the increasing gloom of twilight, setting the Lions on the path to a comfortable win with a devastating second quarter.

First he found a bit of space and time in the pocket to thread the Lions' second goal.

Then he hit Jonathan Brown on the chest with a bullet-like pass, just as he was in the act of trotting to the bench. When he came back, he hit Brown again, and within 10 minutes, the game had become a rout, the Lions up by seven goals.

Later, Rich sent a third pass lace-out to Brown; when the big man failed to convert, Rich did it himself, nailing a long shot from 60 metres just before the siren to end the half.

He had only six possessions for the quarter, but kicked two goals, had three score assists and went inside 50 four times. That's efficiency.

The Bulldogs didn't post a major - and really didn't look like posting one - until Tory Dickson marked and goaled halfway through the term, interrupting a six-goal burst by the home side. It's hard to believe this was one of the quickest, most free-scoring teams in the competition just a couple of years ago.

Of course, it's not the same outfit. The silk we used to associate with the Bulldogs, courtesy of names such as Brad Johnson, Lindsay Gilbee and a younger, fitter Adam Cooney, has gone. The present look is much closer to the club's workmanlike heritage; its old identity of Footscray.

Their better players were all familiar names: Cooney, still trying despite being not quite the player he was; Matthew Boyd, Ryan Griffen, Brian Lake, the indefatigable Bob Murphy and Shaun Higgins.

Under them lies a vast shortfall of both experience and talent. These are bleak times at Whitten Oval.

The Lions' immediate future is more promising. They finish the season with 10 wins, most of them against strugglers well below them on the ladder, but also a couple of upsets against the Eagles and Crows. Rohan Bewick, Josh Green and Claye Beams are players of the future, and they're building some good depth through their midfield.

But they're still some way away from regularly challenging the heavyweights, with a wide gap between their best and worst, and with no obvious replacements for their ageing key-position players. Kurt Tippett, if he's lured north, might ease the pressure on Brown, but there are still glaring gaps.

Rich put the icing on the match and his own game, kicking his fourth goal seconds before the siren to be best afield. It gave the home crowd something to smile about; now only Mad Monday stands before a long, hot summer for both teams.

RICH PICKINGS

Daniel Rich finished an excellent year with perhaps his best game, serving notice that he's ready to take the next step in his career. He finished with 25 possessions, kicked four goals, went inside 50 on 11 occasions and had far more impact on the contest than anyone.

OLD DOGS

For the Bulldogs, one of their major worries is the extent to which they still rely on their experienced players, reflective of a team that was once in contention but has slipped off the pace. The next two years will be critical for the Dogs, particularly in recruitment.

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