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Brisbane Lions legend rubbishes AFL flag suggestion amid reports of player unrest

Leigh Matthews doesn't believe the club has fallen out of its premiership window

Brisbane Lions legend and current board member Leigh Matthews has slapped down suggestions that the Lions' chance of winning an AFL flag has been and gone after a difficult start to the season. After narrowly going down in last year's grand final, Brisbane have started 2024 winless after three games and sit 14th on the ladder.

To make matters worse, recent reports have emerged that there is friction among the Lions playing group, stemming from numerous relationship breakdowns following a post-season Las Vegas trip. The Herald Sun reported last week that a member of the travelling brigade had "accidentally uploaded a WhatsApp group chat to iCloud". The content was then read by that person's partner before being passed on to other wives and girlfriends.

Lions icon Leigh Matthews right and Brisbane Lions players after a loss left
Brisbane Lions icon Leigh Matthews has rubbished suggestions that the Lions' chances of winning a flag have been and gone. Image: Getty

It was also reported that "some of the wild antics being discussed in the group chat", resulted in certain Lions players splitting from their partners following the US trip. Brisbane chief executive Greg Swann moved to bring the Brisbane leadership group into the club on Good Friday to discuss the fallout from the trip amid growing concerns at the club. Following that meeting, the club deemed that the off-season antics had no bearing on the Lions' sluggish start to 2024 and Matthews agrees, putting it down to the ebbs and flows of footy.

In the past five years, the Lions have never missed the top eight but haven't managed to win a grand final in that time, with their last premiership coming back in 2003. And Matthews says it is "way too early" to suggest Brisbane have missed their chance to break their premiership drought. "It is a bad start to the year, no doubt about that," he said on Nine's Footy Furnace.

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"In your win-loss ratio, it's a very bad start to the year, but it's not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Like every team (they have selection dilemmas). Do you play the second ruckman, third tall, or don't you? That's a decision they decided to make that last week, and hadn't done that in the first two weeks, so those kinds of decisions are what selection is all about.

"But again there's no way in the world that you're going to (write them off). (Eric) Hipwood is playing poorly, but you're going to persevere with him because you know he can play well."

Leigh Matthews doesn't believe off-field drama has contributed to slow start in 2024

Matthews admits while the off-field drama has been distracting, he doesn't believe there is any split amongst the playing group. "I've never had a feeling there's this angst among the playing group or disunity like that," Matthews said. "I think everyone I speak to around the club says absolutely no way there's any disunity that has got anything to do with the fact they've lost three games."

Lions coach Chris Fagan said similar following the Lions 20-point loss to Collingwood. "We certainly haven’t had the start that we hoped for, and we’ve dropped two home games which has been very unusual for us over the last period of time, so we’ve got a bit of work to do to find ourselves," Fagan said.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 28: Lachie Neale of the Lions walks off the field with head coach Chris Fagan after their defeat during the round three AFL match between Brisbane Lions and Collingwood Magpies at The Gabba, on March 28, 2024, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Albert Perez/AFL Photos via Getty Images )
Chris Fagan said after last week's 20-point loss to Collingwood that there is no need to "catastrophise" his side's poor start to the season. (Albert Perez/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

"It's not a great start, but let’s not catastrophise it either, would be the way I’d look at it. We're zero and three, and there’s 20 games to go." Fagan believes there is no need to "press the panic button", stating form slumps happen. "Some of our players are not at their best at the moment. I can’t explain to you why, and that’s sport for you," he said.

"Sometimes you go through form slumps … so we’ve got to keep working away with those guys. I’ve trusted them for a long time and they’ve delivered so I’m not going to jump off them just because we’ve lost three games in a row."