Unwanted in three consecutive AFL drafts, Dayne Zorko admits his journey to a grand final has been longer and more unlikely than most.
But the driving force of the Brisbane Lions’ rise from 2017 wooden-spooners to 2023 contenders says it’s far from over.
The 34-year-old will play his 250th AFL game on Saturday against Collingwood at the MCG, the stars aligning for a player who dominated the second-tier QAFL for four years before finally earning a crack as a 22-year-old.
“My journey’s a little different to most but it makes it more special … and it’s not over yet,” he said before the team flew to Melbourne on Thursday.
“We were coming from a long way back and even the first few years under Fages (coach Chris Fagan), we were building but not getting results we were chasing.
“But it turned quickly and you’ve seen in five years (of finals appearances without a grand final berth), the escalation of the group and how we’ve grown as players and people.
“To get an opportunity is unbelievable.”
Off-contract beyond this season, the former captain is keen to play on and attempt to emulate what gave him goosebumps when the Lions’ triple-premiership team of 2001-03 gathered for a club function this month.
“It spurs you on to try to recreate it,” the Gold Coast product said.
“The friendships they built, the camaraderie in that group.
“To see those guys reunited gave us a real kick and lift of energy. I get goosebumps thinking about it.”
Asked if he could have got odds of “one million to one” 12 years ago on playing 250 AFL games, Zorko replied, “Probably more than that”.
Even this season, niggles threatened to scupper Zorko’s push towards the milestone, not that his son was ever concerned.
“(My son) has been onto it for a long time,” Zorko said of the prospect of his milestone coming in a decider.
“A few injuries … it’s had its challenges but he worked it out pretty quickly.
“Results could have gone differently but he was confident all along, I’ll give him that.”
Unable to fly due to a health condition, Zorko’s father is en route to Melbourne in a car supplied by sponsor Hyundai and driven by teammate Noah Answerth.
“It goes to show the personnel at the club,” Zorko said.
“(Answerth) has had his own horrid run of injures, offered to drive him and my uncle down – unreal.”
The Lions completed their main session at the Gabba on Thursday before storms delayed their afternoon flight to Melbourne by about an hour.
Jack Payne (ankle) was unable to win back his spot after he missed the side’s preliminary final win against Carlton, the key defender replaced by the experienced Darcy Gardiner.