The chance of playing in a seventh preliminary final was the last thing on Grant Birchall’s mind when he moved from Hawthorn to Brisbane this year.
For Birchall, the switch was about proving he could still play AFL football.
Just eight games in the previous three years largely due to injuries perhaps suggested otherwise.
But the 32-year-old four-time premiership-winning defender knew otherwise, as did Lions coach, former Hawks assistant Chris Fagan, and the now retired Luke Hodge, who had made the same switch a couple of years earlier.
“It was mainly for me to get my career back on track,” Birchall said in explaining his move to the Lions.
“I thought a fresh start would do me the world of good, and the physios and fitness guys up here have got a really good track record.
“And obviously with ‘Fages’ and ‘Hodgey’, and the guys on an upward spiral, it was really attractive, so I thought I’d give it a go and it’s paid of all right.”
Better than all right in fact.
Birchall has played in 15 of Brisbane’s 18 matches this season, being strategically rested during condensed periods of the COVID-19-affected 2020 campaign.
His calmness, experience and composure have been key factors in the Lions’ run to Saturday’s preliminary final against Geelong at the Gabba.
And despite not having started the season with another flag in mind, Birchall does not want to waste the chance that is now on offer.
— Brisbane Lions (@brisbanelions) October 11, 2020
“I do dream about it … it would be an unbelievable achievement,” he said of the possibility of winning a fifth premiership.
“It would be a bit of a reward for what I’ve been through the last few years, but there’s still a fair bit of water to go under the bridge obviously.
Birchall is of just four Lions players with previous preliminary final experience – the others being Lachie Neale, Charlie Cameron and Lincoln McCarthy – set to play this weekend.
“I’ve played in six prelims and four of them have been decided by under a kick so they’ve been pretty hard to win,” Birchall said.
“We’re privileged to be in this position – it’s great.”
Birchall’s advice to the talented group of Lions’ young guns on Saturday night will be to “back themselves in”.
“I just encourage them to go out there, have a crack and go for it,” he said.
“A couple of them have … asked me questions about what it’s like, but I think the guys handled themselves really well last week against Richmond (in the qualifying final), so they should get a lot of confidence out of that.
“Hopefully we can put in a really good, strong performance.”