Grant Birchall (left) and Jack Gunston celebrate Hawthorn’s 2014 premiership victory over Sydney. Picture: Alex Coppel.
Grant Birchall (left) and Jack Gunston celebrate Hawthorn’s 2014 premiership victory over Sydney. Picture: Alex Coppel.

Lions lock in Hodge replacement

BRISBANE'S signing of four-time premiership-winner Grant Birchall off the back of a breakout season has underlined their status as the AFL's next big destination club.

Birchall, who turns 32 next January, reportedly fielded offers from Brisbane, Hawthorn and Gold Coast as an unrestricted free agent before committing to the Lions in a like-for like replacement with outgoing champion and former teammate Luke Hodge.

The versatile half-back has struggled with injury in recent years and managed just eight games for the Hawks since the start of 2017 but says after weeks of speculation, he's ready to rip in under an old friend and mentor - Chris Fagan.

 

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"It happened reasonably quickly," Birchall said of the move.

"I'm excited to start something a bit different and get up there.

"He (Fagan) has done some really good things at the Lions over the last few years and they were really good to watch in 2019," Birchall said.

"I'm looking forward to playing under him and hopefully helping the guys go the next step in 2020."

Birchall will add experience to the Brisbane backline.
Birchall will add experience to the Brisbane backline.
There's no question securing Birchall's signature was made easier by his pre-existing relationship with Fagan and the 248-gamer will be key to Brisbane's hopes of extending their form in 2020.

Hodge's wealth of finals experience and ability to manage games put him head and shoulders above his teammates in their qualifying and semi final losses to eventual grand finalists Richmond and GWS and Lions football manager David Noble is eager to see Birchall play a similar role across the half-back line.

"Grant's ability to rebound the ball with his run and carry has been an area we've wanted to target this trade period," Noble said.

"We're really excited with what he can offer our club on the field as he has a track record of stepping up and playing well in big games

"We believe his want to continue to improve his game is reflective of our culture, so he will be a great fit."

Luke Hodge and Birchall, left, before great mate Jarryd Roughead’s final AFL game alongside fellow former Hawk greats Lance Franklin and Jordan Lewis.
Luke Hodge and Birchall, left, before great mate Jarryd Roughead’s final AFL game alongside fellow former Hawk greats Lance Franklin and Jordan Lewis.

Hawthorn football manager Graham Wright conceded there was no guarantees Birchall could be offered a list place.

"We were always open with Birch and his management about the fact we would be unable to guarantee him a list spot until we got through the trade period and had a better idea of where our list sat," Wright said.

"As an unrestricted free agent Birch exercised his right to explore the market and we respect that completely.

Birchall will leave Hawthorn as their 15th most capped player in history and relocate to Brisbane in November.