Why Lions coach nearly quit
Chris Fagan fought tooth and nail to become an AFL coach but then, finally having achieved his dream in Brisbane, contemplated giving it all away.
While he was in the Queensland capital resurrecting the Lions, his father, Austin, was slowly losing a debilitating battle with a brain injury acquired from a fall.
While Fagan's mother Beth - Austin's wife of 59 years - and his brothers Grant and David and sister Anne-Maree attended to their husband and father, Fagan felt isolated so far from home.
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Austin finally lost his two-year battle, passing away from pneumonia last December, aged 85.
"I watched dad go through that for a couple of years," Fagan told the Sunday Tasmanian, while in Hobart last week on the Lions pre-season training camp.
"Mum did a brilliant job of caring for him and you get a new appreciation for people who care for people who can't look after themselves when you see it first-hand.
"My sister and two brothers did a brilliant job as well and probably me sitting back up in Brisbane doing what I dreamt of doing all my life, there were times when I thought I should be down here looking after my old man after all the opportunities he created for me."
While Fagan struggled being away from his ailing father, he flourished professionally.
Having not played VFL or AFL, Fagan's coaching pathway came via Sandy Bay and the Tassie Mariners, before becoming an assistant at Melbourne. He then switched roles and clubs to become Hawthorn's football manager.
As coach Alastair Clarkson's right hand man, the Tasmanian schoolteacher was a key part of the Hawks four flags between 2008 to 2015.
After entering the AFL system with the Demons in 1999, he finally become a senior coach in 2017, aged 55.
Last season - his third in charge at Brisbane - he took the Lions from 15th to second on the ladder after the home and away season. He was awarded the AFL Coaches Association coach of the year along the way.
But being unable to share the success and trials and tribulations of coaching at the highest level with his father weighed heavily on the 58-year-old.
"There's lots of good memories about the old man, he was a pretty good footy coach in his day and always a person I could talk to up until about two years ago. It was difficult after that," he said.
"We couldn't have conversations about games because he couldn't remember a lot of things.
"The great memory I have, and the last time I saw him alive, was about four or five weeks before he passed away he made the effort to come over to Melbourne for my daughter Ellen's wedding.
"He was in a wheelchair and he loved the night. He had some smiles on his face and we all got around him.
"They are good memories. At the end of it all you look back at all the great things.
"We all got up and spoke at his funeral and talked about the legacy he left. He was a great role model."
Austin was a legend on Tasmania's rugged West Coast, cutting his name - and his knees - on Queenstown's infamous gravel oval.
He played at Smelters and Gormanston, and coached Gormanston and Lyell - clubs that are now only found in Tasmanian football history books.
While he never coached Chris, Austin was the Tassie Mariners property steward when his son coached the state's best under-18 players from 1995 to 1997.
"He was mostly supportive," Fagan said.
"If he thought I was getting a little bit carried away with myself, he would step in and tell me.
"The property steward sees and hears many things so he was always good value for me in regards to the boys and how they were travelling.
"When we had our road trips we would always come back together and sometimes I didn't look forward to the trips home afterwards in the car because if we hadn't played all that well or I hadn't coached all that well he'd let me know what he thought.
"A couple of times I threatened to put him out of the car and he could walk home.
"He was just a great footy man, he loved the game."
CHRIS FAGAN ON:
The Lions in 2020: A pass mark for us with all things being equal and we don't have a retched run with injuries - which can stop any team - is that we want to try and play finals again. That is what we are aiming to do and so far we are on track for that. In our 3km time trial we've had 18-20 PBs so that is a good indicator the guys have turned up fit and in the right shape.
Coaching Mitch Robinson: It is a weird word to use about Mitch, but it is almost joyful.
I think he's matured a lot in the last few years. He still has his moments where he's erratic and does some crazy things and I'd like to put him in a headlock and all that, but if you ask his teammates, they love him because he's so passionate about the team, the game and he competes so hard. He leaves nothing in the tank. We didn't have him for that last final and we missed him, people forget that he was pretty close to an All-Australian last year as a wingman - a new position for him. You just know with Mitch his heart is in the right place, he deeply cares about our footy club and wants to see us do well. You can rely on Mitch at training if the spirits down a little bit or in a game if things aren't going so well, he's still up and about and as a coach you love those blokes.
Recruiting former Hawk Grant Birchall: The way I'm looking at it, we haven't got 'Birch' to the Lions for a year, I want him to play for four years. I want him to think like that. I don't see why he can't if he keeps himself fit. I want him to have a good little mini career at the end at the Lions after a great career at Hawthorn.
Cam Rayner: I reckon it takes four to five years to turn yourself into a legitimate AFL player. If you look at a guy like (Richmond star) Dustin Martin, who Cam gets compared to, I don't reckon Dusty took off to year five, six or seven. It is a hard gig AFL footy. He's trained more in the midfield this pre-season. I think he'll improve again. It is going to take him a while to develop into a really good midfielder because he doesn't naturally have a really good tank. We are happy with his development and we felt like this pre-season he's taken another step forward and that's all he can do.