The Brisbane Lions’ “maturity” is set to help them avoid mistakes of the past as they edge closer to an AFL grand final appearance.
AFL: A third term charge has booked Brisbane a home preliminary final with the Lions too strong for Port Adelaide as the kept their perfect record at the Gabba in tact.
The Lions won’t play this weekend after booking their place in a preliminary final the following week by beating Port Adelaide by 48 points in last Saturday night’s qualifying final at the Gabba.
Brisbane and the rest of the top eight also had a weekend off less than two weeks ago when no matches were played for 10 days from the end of the regular season to the start of the finals series.
Encouraged by his side’s start against the Power following the break, McCluggage is hopeful of a similarly strong beginning from the Lions against either the Demons or the Blues on Saturday week at the Gabba.
“It’s a maturity thing,” he said.
“While you do switch off a little bit in the first week (of the two-week break between games), you still need to keep a little bit of edge about you and train really well on the Saturday when you do get the weekend off because it’s hard to just turn it on and flick a switch once you do get to the game, especially after a week off.”
The Lions also reached the preliminary final last year but didn’t have the luxury of a break after finishing sixth on the ladder and playing sudden-death football from the start of their finals campaign.
Physically, and perhaps emotionally, spent after back-to-back wins in do-or-die affairs against Richmond and Melbourne, the Lions were spanked by 71 points by eventual premiers Geelong as they fell short of the grand final by a week.
In 2020, the Lions also lost a preliminary final to the Cats but that defeat came after a weekend off earned by a 15-point qualifying win over Richmond.
“It is tough to wait (to play) but … we’re hoping that we’ve learnt a lot over the past few years, and the fact that we’ve also been in that position before should help us to be able to relax this week and take everything in and enjoy the experience for what it is,” McCluggage said.
“You never know how often you’re going to get to play in finals series.”
McCluggage starred for the Lions against Port, defying a knock to his hip with a performance that included 26 disposals.
Following Will Ashcroft’s season-ending knee injury in July, McCluggage said he had “enjoyed the challenge” of playing more of an “inside role” rather than being confined to a wing.
“Playing a little bit more inside, you’re going to be around the contest a little bit more,” Brisbane’s vice-captain said.
“I still felt like as a wingman and as a forward earlier in the year, I was letting myself down with a few of the parts of my game that I consider ‘non-negotiables’ – that has nothing to do with the position you’re playing.
“I have definitely improved in the basics of my game in the back half of the year. I’ve been a little bit cleaner, and my ball use has been a little bit better.”