Unshackled Lions to welcome back ‘incredible’ Ashcroft

Murray Wenzel |

Brisbane’s Will Ashcroft will make his return from injury when the Lions play Melbourne.
Brisbane’s Will Ashcroft will make his return from injury when the Lions play Melbourne.

A realisation they were playing “with the weight of the world on their shoulders” sparked a discussion that now has the Brisbane Lions back in the AFL’s top-four frame.

A horror 2-5 start left them on the brink but three straight wins suddenly has last year’s beaten grand finalists on the cusp of the top eight.

They’ll play Melbourne, who scraped home against last-placed North Melbourne to remain half a win ahead of Brisbane in ninth, on Friday at the Gabba.

Will Ashcroft will return from an anterior cruciate ligament tear for the Lions, who coach Chris Fagan said never lost confidence despite their predicament.

“Knew we were doing a lot right,” Fagan said of their early-season struggles.

“We were probably playing with the weight of the world on our shoulders, trying to live up to expectations.

“Had a good talk about that, (that we wanted to) play and enjoy it, see what happens.

“The only way out is to be bold, fearless and have fun. And you can see that in the way they’re playing at the moment.”

Brisbane could still finish inside the top four if they win seven of their last nine regular-season games.

“It goes to show you how fickle the sporting world is,” Fagan said.

“You can’t get caught up, we just have to keep it real.

“You can listen to all the advice out there, or stick with what you know works.

“If the facts said we needed to change, we would have.”

Ashcroft, 20, was injured last July, ending his emphatic rookie season before his side marched into an AFL grand final.

Will Ashcroft.
Will Ashcroft is helped from the field after suffering his knee injury against Geelong. (Jason O’BRIEN/AAP PHOTOS)

“We’ve got a history of playing blokes straight off the back of their surgeries, like Cam Rayner and Eric Hipwood,” Fagan said of the decision not to reintroduce him in the VFL side.

“We don’t expect him to play the house down, but you have to start somewhere.

“He’s one of the most driven individuals I’ve met in my life.

“That’s what makes him what he is; it’s incredible to watch, an inspiration for most of us.”

The Demons, now without the injured Christian Petracca, have won just two of their past six games.

“We’ve been wounded and been able to bounce back,” he said.

“We know we’ve got to go out and … earn it.”