Dayne Zorko’s Brisbane Lions teammates have emphatically backed the veteran’s bid to play on next year.
The 34-year-old played his 250th game in Saturday’s agonising AFL grand final loss against Collingwood at the MCG.
Famously overlooked in four national drafts, Zorko didn’t make his AFL debut until age 23 so the former captain is determined to extend his career for as long as he can.
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The nuggety forward-midfielder is hopeful he can earn a deal to play on into a 13th AFL season but contract negotiations remain ongoing, with the club yet to make a decision on his future.
Lions vice-captain Hugh McCluggage wanted Zorko to be part of their bid for redemption in 2024 following Saturday’s four-point defeat.
Dayne Zorko reflects on the defeat during the post-match ceremony. Credit: 7AFL
“(Zorko’s) played some sensational football this year,” McCluggage said on Sunday.
“He’s been such a massive part of our group for such a long period of time.
“The boys absolutely love having him around the club. He’s has done so much for us, me personally, and also the boys in the club.”
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Harris Andrews, who took over the captaincy with Lachie Neale from Zorko before this season, believes the oldest player on the Lions’ list still has much to offer.
“(Zorko) is a massive part of this club and he’s a heart and soul player,” the star defender said.
“We love having him out there and I think he’s still got plenty left to give.
“He’s played some really good footy this year.”
Fellow veteran Daniel Rich has already retired after falling out of the Lions’ best team mid-season, while question marks remain over three-time Hawthorn premiership forward Jack Gunston’s future in Brisbane.
Despite playing finals for the past five seasons, coach Chris Fagan believes the Lions have only just truly moved into the premiership window.
Brisbane went out in straight sets twice (2019 and 2021) and lost two preliminary finals before qualifying for the last Saturday in September.
“We’ve still got quite a young group,” McCluggage said.
“You see guys like Darcy Wilmot, Kiddy (Keidean) Coleman playing great footy throughout the year and in the finals as well.
“Then a lot of guys, Cam Rayner, myself, Bez (Jarrod Berry) – all in that age bracket where we feel like we’ve still got a lot left give and our best footy ahead of us.
“It’s disappointing that we couldn’t get it done for some of our older guys and the guys that have been around for a long time.
“We’re confident that we can bounce back and give it a good shot throughout the next few years.”
Hugh McCluggage believes the Lions can contend for years to come. Credit: Robert Cianflone/AFL Photos/via Getty Images
Father-son prodigy Will Ashcroft was on track to claim the Rising Star award before he ruptured his ACL in round 19 but will return next year.
Ashcroft’s brother Levi is due to be drafted to the Lions at the end of 2024.
Brisbane were on average significantly younger than the Collingwood unit they faced on Saturday.
Rather than shy away from being on the losing end of a thrilling premiership decider, the Lions will review the match immediately to see where they can improve.
Often coaches and players in the past have admitted not being able to watch back a heartbreaking grand final loss.
“It’ll be hard to watch, but I think we’ll do that probably Tuesday or Wednesday when we do our team review and our individual reviews,” McCluggage said.
“No doubt we’ll all have things throughout the game that we probably won’t enjoy watching, but that’s how you learn, that’s how you get better.”
Lions co-captain Harris Andrews insisted dissecting painful defeats in the past had helped the group ultimately reach the grand final.
“If we push it under the carpet and go, ‘It didn’t happen’, then that’ll leave us in a bad place,” the star defender said in the Lions’ rooms on Saturday night.
“But I feel like that’s what this group has done really well, driven by Fages – our ability to learn from our mistakes.”
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