Tom Rockliff celebrates after kicking a goal for Brisbane in the round thirteen game between the Brisbane Lions and the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne. Saturday, June 23, 2012. Brisbane won the game 18.6.114 to the Bulldogs 7.14.56.
Tom Rockliff celebrates after kicking a goal for Brisbane in the round thirteen game between the Brisbane Lions and the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne. Saturday, June 23, 2012. Brisbane won the game 18.6.114 to the Bulldogs 7.14.56. AAP

Great pride in these Lions

THE team formally known as the Maroons were the most dominant force in the early years of the VFL/AFL.

They won seven of the first 26 premierships, and five of the first 13 Brownlow Medals.

I'm talking about Fitzroy, which had the nickname now synonymous with a certain Queensland representative side, before briefly changing it to the Gorillas - only to play "like a bunch of apes" - then settling on the 'Lions'.

Apparently the lion was chosen because of its never-say-die attitude, which Fitzroy had.

Ironically, the club, as it was, did eventually say die in 1996.

By the 1980s, after appearing in just five finals series since World War II, the Lions were certainly no kings of the jungle, and, due to a lack of performance and finances, were to be poached by the league to relocate to Sydney.

South Melbourne was eventually chosen for that gig. But Fitzroy remained in the firing line. In 1986 it avoided both another forced shift north, this time to Brisbane, as well as a merger with Melbourne, while in 1989 the Fitzroy Bulldogs looked a done deal until Footscray fans dug in.

The axe finally fell in its 100th season in the VFL/AFL when the league decided to play domineering parent, intervening just as the Lions and North Melbourne were heading down the aisle and instead arranged a shotgun marriage with the Brisbane Bears.

Some called it a takeover. But, Brisbane has done a superb job in honouring Fitzroy.

The day after clinching flags in 2001, '02 and '03, the Lions were down at the Brunswick Street Oval - Fitzroy's home for 80 years - to celebrate with fans.

And on Saturday night, Fitzroy champions were among the inaugural 17 players inducted into the Brisbane Lions Hall of Fame in Melbourne.

Among them were Kevin Murray and Haydn Bunton, who were made 'Legends'.

Bunton won Brownlow Medals in his first two seasons, and a third in his fifth. The umpires loved him - he is the only player to average more than one vote a match. Murray won a record-equalling nine club best-and-fairests and a Brownlow in 1969 - and has barely stopped wearing it since.

Skipper Jonathan Brown said on The Footy Show last week the players were not too keen on walking into the lavish Crown Palladium on Saturday night with their tail between their legs after a loss.

Instead, they walked in with their heads held high after crushing the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium - just their third win from their last 15 starts there.

There was a lot to like about the Lions - for one, the special heritage jumper, a combination of Fitzroy's original from the 1890s and those from the '50s.

And, of course, the players in them, in particular the young blokes - Tom Rockliff (22), Pearce Hanley (23), Dayne Zorko (23), Jack Redden (21), Daniel Rich (22), Mitch Golby (20), Rohan Bewick (22) and Ryan Harwood (20) - who are now providing great hope for future success.

Rockliff had a career-high 40 disposals against the Dogs and now ranks seventh (25.36 per game) when it comes to highest average disposals since 1974.

He sits behind only Greg Williams (26.9), Dane Swan (25.8), Terry Wallace (25.7), Mark Bairstow (25.7), Joel Selwood (25.4) and Scott West (25.4).

Mark it down, Rockliff will win the club a 12th Brownlow Medal in the near future - and a place in that Hall of Fame.



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