Lions face ruck decision
9 April 2002
By Bill McDonald
The Lions face a selection quandary in the lead-up to a match that Brisbane coach Leigh Matthews is billing as the AFL's biggest-ever home-and-away game.
The reigning premier has both its leading ruckmen on the injured list for Saturday night's grand final rematch against Essendon at the Gabba, after Beau McDonald strained ankle ligaments in the big win over Hawthorn at the same ground on Sunday.
McDonald has not given up hope of making what would be a remarkable recovery, but Matthews said he was extremely unlikely to play, presenting the coach with two options.
They are, go in against the Bombers, who are equally light-on in the big-man department, with 19-year-old ruck rookies Jamie Charman and Dylan McLaren, or risk selecting Clark Keating for his first game of the season after foot surgery.
"Do you go with the experienced guy who's just had no match practice or do you go with the younger guy who is fit and well and been playing. I guess that's a selection call we'll have to consider as the week goes on," Matthews said.
"It's going to be fairly much the ruck futures there on Saturday night by the look of it, in terms of both sides have got very young ruckmen."
Much has been made of Essendon's ruck weaknesses, but David Hille has done well in the first two games and Steven Alessio could return from an achilles tendon problem. Paul Salmon is still two weeks away with a calf problem.
The 102-point thrashing of Hawthorn has been quickly overlooked, such has been the excitement and expectation already generated in Brisbane for the clash of the two best sides in the competition.
Matthews has gone so far as to say the expected sellout match will be unrivalled as far as regular-season football fixtures go, such is the qualify and stature of both sides.
"Last year's grand finalists, both undefeated so far this year; I mean, this is certainly the biggest home-and-away game ever played in Brisbane," Matthews said. "It's as big a home-and-away game that there's probably been, in a way.
"I mean, you've got the two teams who were in the grand final last year and have started the season well and come up head to head again very early in the new campaign.
"I just think there's two sides who have got some just wonderful players amongst the group. If I was a footy fan I'd love to be here.
"As it is, I'll be a nervous wreck because I've got to coach. I just think it's an enormous game.
Matthews said there was no ill feeling between himself and Essendon's 500-game coach Kevin Sheedy following last year's grand final.
The coaches failed to utter a word or even make eye contact with each other at the grand final-day press conference, and Sheedy did not shake Matthews' hand immediately after the premiership win.
"No. How much more simple can I say it. Underline no. With an exclamation mark," the Lions coach said.