From the grandstand: Voss under siege

22 February 2011

Written by: Renee Tibbs

Michael Voss was once the most adored AFL figure in Queensland.

Considered by many footy experts as Brisbane’s most decorated player in its short history, the ex-midfielder captained his team to four consecutive grand finals, yielding three flags between 2001 and 2003.

Put simply, Voss was the Lion King – a tremendous leader of men.

When he retired as a player and replaced the legendary Leigh Matthews as Brisbane coach at the end of 2008, he was quickly touted as the Lions’ saviour. The club champion was going to be the man to take an exciting and bubbly young team to its next premiership.

Now, after a humiliating and tumultuous weekend for Brisbane both on and off the field, the 35-year-old is under siege for the first time in his illustrious AFL career. And there is no doubt he will be the coach under the most pressure throughout the 2011 season.

Positives were harder to find than a shopping centre car spot at Christmas time during the Lions’ comprehensive NAB Cup losses to Essendon and St Kilda last Friday night.

Yes they fielded a very inexperienced line-up – seven players made their debut in the maroon and gold, while leaders Jonathon Brown, Simon Black and Luke Power made themselves comfortable on the sidelines. But that is still no excuse for a team to be so physically and mentally unprepared for a game of football like how the Lions were the other night.

Essendon, a side that finished with the exact same record as Brisbane at the conclusion of the 2010 season (seven wins and 15 losses), annihilated them by a whopping 62 points in just over 40 minutes of football. Imagine what they could’ve done in a full 120-minute game.

But just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse for the Lions, another off-field distraction reared its head.

Brisbane officials confirmed on Monday afternoon that controversial enigma Brendan Fevola had been sacked after a string of undisciplined acts. The Lions finally gave in and terminated the star full-forward’s three-year deal, reportedly worth around $2.1 million.

Voss was the major catalyst behind Fevola’s much-hyped signing at the end of 2009. He knew the risk the club was taking when Fev arrived in the sunshine state, especially after such incidents as the Irish pub brawl and the infamous Brownlow medal ‘Street Talk’. Nevertheless, Voss and the club went ahead and signed him.

A year on and there is now a sizable poached egg splattered all over the face of the Brisbane coach.

Fevola’s time at Brisbane was nothing short of a waste. He should’ve never gone to the club in the first place because he was unfit – both mentally and physically. The Lions had a gun forward in Daniel Bradshaw already on the list and performing at a high standard too.

But for some reason, Fev was the one they wanted – not Bradshaw. God knows why.

The clumsy deal, which saw Fevola traded from Carlton to Brisbane at the end of 2009, was questionable right from the start. The Lions lost promising forward Lachie Henderson and the number 12 pick for that year’s draft – which turned out to be young skilful midfielder Kane Lucas.

But even before the trade was confirmed, other Brisbane players strongly felt they were treated unfairly, triggering a number of key departures from the club.

Both Bradshaw and Michael Rischitelli were very unhappy with Voss and the club after they were flown down to Melbourne to meet with Carlton officials – at short notice and against their will – to discuss a potential trade. Both never went back to Visy Park and will probably never return.

Bradshaw left Brisbane immediately and found a warm home in the Sydney Swans, where he had a fair 2010 season. Rischitelli stayed true to the Lions for another year but on the same day he won the club’s best-and-fairest, he announced he had signed to play the 2011 season with Gold Coast.

Add Jared Brennan and Justin Sherman’s expected walk outs to that list of players and Fev’s arrival, in effect, cost Brisbane six players and a three-year-contract worth $2.1 million, with the Blues paying $100,000 for each of the first two years.

Ouch. What a waste.

Before last weekend, many expert commentators believed the new Gold Coast club would struggle in 2011 and finish on the bottom of the ladder. But after witnessing the Suns’ impressive performances against Sydney and GWS on Saturday night and seeing the Lions’ efforts the night before, those opinions may change very quickly.

If you’re a keen punter, please don’t hesitate in putting money on Brisbane to claim this year’s wooden spoon. The club’s ageing list has little to no upside for the year ahead and should produce an even worse finish than last year (13th).

Voss’ coaching contract ends at the end of this season, so a mountain of pressure will surround him and the Lions for the rest of the year.

Voss’ team has already begun horrendously. The scary thing is the worst is yet to come.

Ben Waterworth is a La Trobe journalism student and upstart’s sports editor. This is the first article for his new weekly sports column, ‘From the grandstand.