Shorter quarters will allow Lachie Neale’s direct opponents a breather when the AFL resumes next month, but the Brisbane midfielder’s new border collie hasn’t been so lucky.
Harley the puppy was thrust into the role of training partner when the season was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic and, like most of the All-Australian rover’s rivals last season, struggled to keep up.
The former Fremantle star will face the Dockers when the Lions return to the Gabba on June 13, almost three months after their round one loss to Hawthorn.
Third in Brownlow Medal voting after a move to Brisbane that saw him lead the league in clearances, centre clearances, effective disposals, stoppage clearances and contested possessions, Neale knows he’ll be a marked man.
But with Harley nipping at his heels, and the Lions’ dramatic rise from 15th to second last season under his belt, Neale is prepared.
“He’s definitely got me for speed; he loves it and will follow me around until he’s tired and he’ll go sit in the shade and wait,” Neale told AAP of his seven-month old dog, who’s sister was bought by new teammate Callum Ah Chee.
That sequence of events isn’t uncommon for Neale, who enjoys the grind and admits he’s not a fan of the AFL’s decision to retain the shorter quarters.
“It won’t take too much away from my game, I’m probably just a bit of a traditionalist, love the grind and war of attrition,” he told AAP.
“I’m not a big fan of the short quarters … it’s over pretty quickly and I actually felt quite fresh after round one and in a weird way I like feeling sore, love that feeling of giving it your all.
“In the back end of the third quarter you feel the game open up, blokes get tired and it tests you mentally and fans too, it’s cutting off almost a quarter of them being able to watch their team.
“Some might enjoy the shorter quarters but I’m not one of them; hopefully they keep their word and next year it goes back to normal.”
Regardless, Neale has been impressed by how his side have returned to training as they look to reinforce their new standing.
Excessive ball use was singled out as an issue in their loss to the Hawks, but Neale said there were no fundamental flaws in their plan.
“We were up in that top echelon of scoring (last season, so know the style is effective), but we know teams will come at us harder,” he said.
“We probably caught some by surprise, so we know now they’ll expect good footy from us and we’ll have to improve to combat that.
“But in terms of our statistical measures we can almost just aim to repeat what we did.
“It will be harder to do but if we can do it it’ll put us in a good spot.”
Neale’s former teammates will follow him to the east coast as part of the AFL’s Gold Coast hub next month and he’s been in touch to ensure they make the most of the stay.
While he said the Lions’ terrific “country footy club” culture ensured his own move was seamless, he admits that first game against his former club was a learning experience.
“It was weird; I probably over-thought it a bit before the game and didn’t play that well,” he said of the Lions’ one-point loss on the road last season.
“They didn’t really say too much to me or make it feel any different, it was probably just me over-thinking it in my head before the game.
“Once I played and finished I realised it wasn’t much different to any other game, just with more scrutiny and noise and a good learning curve.”
The Lions will play an unprecedented four straight games at the Gabba to restart the season and Neale knows they can’t waste it.
“I feel like I’m ready to go and I’m super proud of how we handled ourselves over the break,” Neale said.
“We’ve a few things to tidy up on, certainly we have to improve because we weren’t good at all (against Hawthorn).
“And it’s important for our season if we do get the win; we don’t want to start 0-2.”