Daniher goes from villain to hero as Lions beat Tigers in a thriller

This elimination final was fast, it was frenetic, it involved not a little bit of luck, and it featured an incredible 17 lead changes. And in the end, it was Joe Daniher – who’d had the sort of match that only Joe can have – who produced the last of them.

With his third goal, scrambled from the square, the Brisbane Lions finally sunk Richmond, the most dangerous floaters in this year’s finals series. The Lions progress to a semi-final next week. For the Tigers, it meant oblivion for season 2022.

For much of the last quarter, they had looked like they might hang on. Old premiership heroes rose to the top: Jack Riewoldt, with two daggers from close to the boundary line; Marlion Pickett, who might have played his best game since his legendary debut in the 2019 grand final.

But the Lions, whose brittle defensive game has been exposed in the back half of this season, kept hanging in, staying just close enough. The final play, ending on Daniher’s boot, was worthy of any of Collingwood’s biggest heists this year.

Lachie Neale was simply extraordinary in the centre. He racked up 15 clearances from his 39 disposals and virtually willed his team over the line. But he had serious help. Hugh McCluggage proved himself a big-game player, so too Zac Bailey.

Neither side came out unscathed. The Lions suffered a devastating blow early, losing ruckman Oscar McInerney to concussion in the opening minutes of the match; under the 12-day medical protocols, he will miss next week’s match.

Joe Daniher celebrates with Lions teammates as he puts his side up with a minute to go.Credit:AFL Photos

The Tigers also lost Dion Prestia just short of half-time. Prestia had been well-held by Deven Robertson, but had just started to break the tag, and was pivotal to the Tigers’ surge late in the second quarter. Robertson then went on to keep Daniel Rioli quiet.

It was while McInerney was still in the hands of trainers that Rioli slotted Richmond’s first. Shudders would have being going through the Lions’ camp already, but they steadied, and a deft chip from Jarrod Berry found McCluggage for the home side’s first.

Thus the pattern was set for an enthralling game of punch and counter-punch. Every time the ball reached the outside, the Tigers looked more dangerous, and they punished the Lions’ errors with interest. They looked cleaner and more composed.

Quickly, Dustin Martin was on the board, on the end of a long chain, and Richmond fans went bonkers. Dusty’s successor Shai Bolton – who had made the assist – soon had his first, too. Trent Cotchin roosted a big kick from outside 50. There is still life in the old legs.

But the Lions found ways to respond. Eric Hipwood is the streakiest of the Lions forwards, and he has struggled to find his mojo since returning from a knee injury. A goal from near the boundary levelled the quarter-time scores, and it pumped Hipwood up.

Then there was Charlie Cameron. He missed a gimme within a minute of the second quarter, then kicked a remarkable snap over his shoulder. Later, he tapped the ball behind him for Hipwood’s third.

Richmond have seen all this before, including at this ground. Prestia, before his injury, hacked the ball from the square; it landed in the arms of Riewoldt. From seven points down, the Tigers managed three goals from just six kicks.

Trump cards were played. Neale took over in the centre, and the Lions hit the front again. In response, Toby Nankervis began to rip the ball out of the centre himself for the Tigers. Steadily, Tom Lynch climbed on top of Harris Andrews.

The last quarter had it all. Cameron hit the scoreboard again within a minute, and the Lions hit the front. Riewoldt responded, once, then twice, and the Tigers looked like they were going to get home.

There were heroic tackles, and mistakes by both sides that will be scrutinised for the next week, including by Daniher, who gave away a silly free kick that cost Lincoln McCarthy a likely goal. If he owed them, he paid them back in spades when he was most needed.

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