Healthy McCarthy overcomes fear of letting Lions down

After seven injury riddled seasons in Geelong, livewire forward Lincoln McCarthy was traded to the Brisbane Lions at the end of 2018.

"I was a little bit anxious of how I was going to go or if I was going to be another let down," McCarthy told ESPN of the first few weeks with his new club.

"It was more around the club investing in me and I didn't want it to be another club that's going to be let down."

A combination of foot, hip, groin and back issues restricted the 2011 draft selection from Bordertown, South Australia to just 29 games during his time with Geelong, before the Cats helped facilitate a trade up north to give McCarthy a fresh start.

Uncertain of the reliability of his own body, the 26-year-old credits the Lions medical staff for their hard-line approach on arrival to the club.

"The Brisbane fitness guys were really honest in saying I had a lot of work to do and told me I was going to be really frustrated with them because they would be holding me back a lot," he said.

"It was definitely a mindset thing. I just had to put pure trust in the program that was going to put in front of me and just slowly build up."

The slow and methodical build up led to Round 1 selection. Though, by his own admission, the internal pressure valve was only released after a string of games in a row in his new colours.

"I was quite anxious heading into Round 1," McCarthy reflected.

"I felt fine in the preseason games, felt really comfortable playing with my teammates and I knew building synergy would take a little bit, but I still had that anxiety leading into Round 1 with how I would go with my body.

"There's nothing worse than going out there and injuring yourself and then you're one rotation down and how that can affect the team. I just had to get a few games under my belt before that all diminished."

McCarthy would ultimately stay healthy, appearing in all 24 Brisbane games for the season. He also nailed 20 goals in the process -- none bigger than his game-winner against the Cats in Round 22.

Hauling in one of the marks of the year over former teammate, Jack Henry, McCarthy kicked truly from 30 meters out with just over a minute left, sending the success-starved Gabba crowd into a frenzy as the Lions would hold on for a one-point victory.

"Winning the game against Geelong secured the double chance through finals so it was a massive win," McCarthy said.

"I wasn't there during the tougher times that Brisbane have had but just to see the pure joy on all the faces of my teammates. During that moment when we won that game it was huge for the team after all the work they'd done over the last few years."

That win would be the Lions' last in 2019, after a Round 23 loss was followed by a straight sets finals exit at the hands of eventual grand finalists Richmond and Greater Western Sydney.

On reflection, McCarthy is able to pinpoint Brisbane's September shortcomings, having played in three finals with the Cats among a veteran-laden squad.

"They were just experienced; they knew that not much has to change in finals," he explained.

"The ability to do the simple things well and execute the fundamentals is what finals is all about.

"As a Brisbane line-up last year, we started to try to do a little bit more in terms of individual impact. It's something you've got to learn in finals that not much has to change. The intensity might lift a little bit but in terms of just playing your role and sticking to the process it all has to stay the same.

"It's something that you've been working on all year and it's made you a good side, you shouldn't shift away from that. In those finals I think we all tried to impact the game individually a little bit too much and that's what cost us in the moment."

McCarthy says the Lions carried the belief from 2019 through preseason and the subsequent AFL COVID-19 hiatus. Having dispatched the previously undefeated Port Adelaide in Round 5, McCarthy believes the next step is continuing to play consistent footy against top tier opposition.

The first challenge will come in the form of his old club on Thursday night at the SCG, in a matchup he greatly anticipates.

"I was still very fortunate to be involved in such a great club. All the people there are amazing. The community down there is awesome," he said.

"I've never really tried to look back and look at regrets and stuff like that, I've just tried to learn a little bit from it. The guys had a great support network back there, the medical team was brilliant, it just didn't work out for me.

"My only disappointment was not being able to repay the faith that Geelong had in me for all the years. Just the work they all put in to try and get me out on the park. I feel like I'm forever in debt to those guys."

McCarthy is set to try and repeat his heroics from last season in a game that could well decide who sits on top of the ladder at the end of the weekend. Though, he admits the feeling is a little different this time around.

"I'm just really excited this time rather than nervous; I'm intrigued with who I'll be playing on and all those sorts of things. I know them all really well, I know how they play, I just hope they don't know how I play too well because I haven't been out on the park that much," he said.

"They're a great team, the defenders in particular are really hard to play on so I'll be looking forward to that challenge that's for sure."