Dayne Zorko has been Brisbane’s most important recruit. Picture: AAP
Dayne Zorko has been Brisbane’s most important recruit. Picture: AAP

Rise of the Lions: Rebuild begins with Zorko

R and R in most industries is about work-life balance, and employers and employees trumpet its importance.

Footy clubs are no different, but, for them, R and R stands for recruiting and retention, and nothing is a greater factor in determining the win-loss ratio.

Since the premiership era, recruiting and retention had been Brisbane's biggest issues.

The history of the Lions - and their neighbours, the Suns - shows that getting quality players to head north is not easy, and keeping gun draftees is just as hard.

When there is a chance of genuine success, things get a bit easier and there is no doubt the talent in versus talent out ratio has been in the Lions' favour for a couple of years now.

But when the sides are battling, recruiters are left with only two options - ageing stars looking to boost their superannuation, out-of-favour blokes searching for the last-chance saloon, or reserve graders hoping to crack a senior berth at a battling club.

But for every Josh Kennedy, who struggled for opportunities at Hawthorn and went on to become a premiership player and club great at Sydney, we can show you a dozen Lions and Suns recruits who were the same footballers here as they were at their previous clubs - depth players.

 

Stefan Martin has proven a recruiting bargain for the Lions since making his way north in 2012.
Stefan Martin has proven a recruiting bargain for the Lions since making his way north in 2012.

 

And, as for retention, the only hope is to pay overs for players which leaves you with the type of salary cap mess Brisbane and Gold Coast have battled with over the past decade.

Brisbane's R and R in the Chris Fagan era has been superb but, according to long-term captain Jonathan Brown, a series of important decisions and key appointments before his arrival were also pivotal in Brisbane's re-emergence as a force.

"I think the current recruiting team has been outstanding,'' Brown said.

"Obviously they have done well out of the draft for a decent period now but the way they have traded and mined free agency is first class.

"You go back to our record from Stefan Martin on and it has been very impressive, and a key reason why the club is where they are today.

"That was an area that was pretty poor, to be brutally honest, during and just after the premiership years.''

To fully identify when the foundation for the Brisbane list was laid, you have to go back eight years ago to a trade with Gold Coast.

 

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The recruitment of Dayne Zorko was a big moment in the Brisbane Lions’ rebuild this decade. Picture: Getty Images
The recruitment of Dayne Zorko was a big moment in the Brisbane Lions’ rebuild this decade. Picture: Getty Images

 

SNARING DAYNE ZORKO

The AFL'S expansion to 18 teams affected Brisbane more than any other club.

In addition to losing reigning club champion Michael Rischitelli, the mercurial Jared Brennan and a handful of staff to the Suns, an estimated 5000 members also said goodbye to the Lions and hitched their hopes to the AFL's newest franchise.

The Suns' plundered the Lions, but they did give something back.

Dayne Zorko was a born-and-bred Queenslander who was famously overlooked in four drafts before eventually finding his way to the Lions.

The Suns had priority access to him as a zone selection under their generous start-up rules, and their snubbing of the kid dominating for Broadbeach right under their noses, who would surely be captain now, ranks as the biggest mistake in the club's turbulent history.

Brisbane had also been guilty of oversight, but when Zorko starred for Queensland in a state game against Western Australia in Perth, that changed.

 

A 19-year-old Dayne Zorko during his time with Broadbeach in the AFLQ.
A 19-year-old Dayne Zorko during his time with Broadbeach in the AFLQ.

They went to the Suns and struck the deal that has delivered them a future Hall of Famer and winner of four Merret-Murray medals.

"At the time, I was extremely disappointed,'' Zorko has said of the snubbing.

"Being a local boy, it was obviously my goal and I pretty much hung around Queensland football to give myself the best opportunity to be drafted by the Suns.''

 

STEF MARTIN BARGAIN

The debate raged right throughout 2012, "Stefan Martin or Jesse White?"

Although neither player was the Lions' No.1 priority at the end of that season, the club's ruck stocks behind Matthew Leuenberger were thin and they were in the market for a decent back-up.

White was a Queenslander, which carried some weight, but some felt he was more of a forward who could only pinch-hit in the ruck.

Andrew Farrell, the club's opposition scout at the time, kept pushing Melbourne's basketball convert Martin who, after an impressive 2011, was languishing in the Demons' reserves.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of Martin's recruitment which, for picks 52 and 71, has become one of the great bargains.

Although his first 18 months were injury plagued, in the back half of 2014 he started to produce the form that would break the cycle for Brisbane.

He has become one of the club's biggest names of his era, winning the club championship in 2015 and never falling out of the top five.

It was the first win of many, with mature-aged signings that include fellow club champion Mitch Robinson, Allen Christensen and has carried on under Fagan with Lachie Neale, Jarryd Lyons and Charlie Cameron.

 

Lions recruiting manager Stephen Conole. Picture: AFL Media
Lions recruiting manager Stephen Conole. Picture: AFL Media

 

 

DRAFTING

Stephen Conole may not be a household name, but no one has been more involved in the Lions' rebuild.

After a couple of years as an underling, Conole took over as head of recruiting in 2013. His first draft in charge brought James Aish (7), Darcy Gardiner (22), Dan McStay (25) Lewis Taylor (28) Tom Cutler (33) and Nick Robertson (34) to the club.

Aish is gone but the rest have all played senior footy this year, and Gardiner and McStay will have key roles to play in the upcoming finals campaign.

That year kickstarted what has become a fruitful drafting period. There have been some misses - the selection of Josh Schache with pick 2 in 2015 didn't pan out.

But of the 22 who will do battle in Saturday's qualifying final at the Gabba, more than half were drafted and, of those, only Daniel Rich arrived before Conole's time.

News Corp Australia


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