Brisbane Lions defender Sam Mayes.
Brisbane Lions defender Sam Mayes. Chris Hyde/AFL Media

Young Lion leading defence with pride

SAM Mayes is happy to play the role of Brisbane's leader of the backs - even if he is still a couple of weeks shy of his 23rd birthday.

"I do feel a bit like that," said Mayes, who will play just game No.80 when the Lions host the in-form Port Adelaide at the Gabba today.

"I've played the most games down there, so it's important to pass that experience on to all the other boys."

Darcy Gardiner (21 years, 47 games), Harris Andrews (20, 40), Dan McStay (21, 45) and Tom Cutler (21, 37) make up the most inexperienced backline in the competition.

But these particular "boys" are rapidly becoming men with prodigious defensive nous.

The Lions have conceded the most amount of opposition 50m entries in the first five rounds, and their young defence will be placed under enormous pressure today facing an ominous Power attack containing Robbie Gray, Chad Wingard, Charlie Dixon and Justin Westhoff.

But for the amount of ball that has been coming their way, they have been holding up well.

"Whatever the match-ups may be, as a backline group we're about being very hard to play against," Mayes said.

Justin Clarke, who was forced to retire prematurely, and veteran Daniel Merrett left huge holes in defence, with Jack Frost enticed north from Collingwood as cover.

But the Lions' coaching group, led by Chris Fagan, has put its faith in the youngsters.

Players right across the park have thrived, Mayes said.

"He (Fagan) has brought in a play-on-instinct, back-your-decision mentality," Mayes said. "And that's been good for a lot of players.

"We're all capable footballers, it's just about making good decisions while we're out there. And I think he (Fagan) has been able to teach us that."

Mayes is enjoying his career-best season, averaging more than 20 disposals for the first time. Only Dayne Beams, Tom Rockliff and Dayne Zorko have touched the ball more at the Lions.

 

Jeremy Cameron of the Giants is tackled by Sam Mayes of the Lions.
Jeremy Cameron of the Giants is tackled by Sam Mayes of the Lions. Chris Hyde

With added confidence in his game, he continually turns defence into attack.

"It (his game) has always been based on the back of defence, then just being able to build an offensive game off of that," he said.

"I've been happy with it, but there's also a lot of room for improvement as well."

That goes for the side under Fagan. The Lions, at 1-4, have been increasingly competitive and led the Bulldogs heading into the final term of last week's clash.

"It's good we're able to put ourselves into positions like that - over the last couple of years we didn't even put ourselves in those positions - but we're not satisfied because we've been losing the game," he said.

Still, Mayes knows the tide will turn if they keep their intensity up.

"Fages has always driven effort ever since he got here," Mayes said. "That's what he rates our game on. That's what puts you in games."

A South Australian who some expected may become part of the exodus of Lions players to head back to their home states, Mayes is in for the long haul.

He has signed two contract extensions since first arriving in 2012, his current deal taking him to 2019.

"I see a good future at this footy club," he said. "We've got a good group of lads together, so it's just about keeping it together and getting the work done out on the ground."

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