Why Lions should be flag favourites
IT was a comment said in jest in the office before the Port Adelaide-Brisbane match: "If the Lions smash Port they should be premiership favourites".
What followed was totally unexpected. After 22 minutes it was game over as Brisbane piled on seven goals.
There was another witticism about clearing the calendar for the last Saturday in September.
But behind every joke there's an element of truth, and the belief is building the Lions can go all the way.
After nine years without finals, seven of them finishing in the bottom four, Lions fans can be forgiven if they're unable to contain their excitement.
Apart from the premiership three-peat and four grand finals between 2001-2004 and a few other finals appearance here and there, any supporter with ties to Fitzroy and the Bears have mostly endured years of pain.
Earlier in the season I remained fair-minded about their top-eight prospects even when commentators were declaring "Brisbane had arrived".
There were, after all, heavy defeats to Essendon and Collingwood, missed opportunities against the Western Bulldogs and Fremantle and the collapse against Carlton.
But against that are wins against current top-eight clubs West Coast, Adelaide and Greater Western Bulldogs (and you can probably add the two wins against Port Adelaide, which tumbled outside the eight after last Sunday's mauling).
Brisbane is now on a four-game winning streak since the mid-season bye but it's the authority of their road wins against GWS and Port Adelaide, the latter match without Eric Hipwood, Hugh McCluggage and Luke Hodge, that will make opposition clubs wary.
That trio return this week against North Melbourne, meaning there will be just one player on the injury list, a sore point for some colleagues in the Herald Sun office.
"No wonder the Lions are sitting third," said one in a sardonic tone.
But the reality is clubs need their best players on the field at the business end of the season to maximise their chances of ultimate success.
Think Richmond in 2017.
Brisbane's surge into the top four has come as a surprise but clubs do win premierships ahead of their time - Hawthorn in 2008, Collingwood in 2010 and the Western Bulldogs in 2017.
Why not the Lions this year?
This is a quality list they have painstakingly assembled since the fallout of the "go-home five" in 2013.
Securing Lachie Neale from Fremantle was a masterstroke, Charlie Cameron was arguably recruit of the year last season before injury ended his campaign and youngsters such as McCluggage, Hipwood, Harris Andrews and Alex Witherden are performing at a level beyond their experience.
And don't undersell 35-year-old Hodge's value to the team. He has been exceptional in marshalling the backline and directing his younger teammates on the field.
The Lions are an exciting team to watch and there's a hard-edge about the way they play, which should stand up to September pressure.
Champion Data statistics since Round 6 reveal the Lions are ranked first for points scored, fourth for points against, fourth for point differential from turnover, first for points differential from stoppages, second for post stoppage contested possession differential and third for post stoppage groundball differential.
Lions premiership great Jonathan Brown said the Lions are a serious contender but, unlike myself, was trying to keep a lid on expectations.
"You wouldn't want to have your pressure a little bit against the Lions because they can put a big score on you heavily," Brown said on Fox Footy earlier in the week.
"They've got talent on every level of the ground and they've got a toughness about them.
"But I subscribe to the belief you need to experience finals before you go all the way to the top."
But in all seriousness, if the Lions can navigate a testing run home - which concludes with games against Geelong (home) and Richmond (away) - and still be in the top four, then anything is possible.