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Giants are stuck trying to build an empire on shifting sand


Dylan Shiel and Rory Lobb leave the field after the Giants’ finals exit and what looks to have been the last game of either for the club. Photo: AFL MEDIA

Giants are stuck trying to build an empire on shifting sand

Rohan Connolly    

Looking back now at some of the predictions made in 2012 about how new club Greater Western Sydney would fare in its AFL infancy is in some cases cringeworthy.

The Giants had assembled a playing roster of 49, of whom 31 were still teenagers when the club played its first AFL match. Of the 49, just 10 had prior AFL experience.

This was effectively a junior club playing against men. But that didn’t stop some so blinded by the talent those kids had shown against their junior peers tipping finals immediately for the new franchise.

Those wild stabs in the dark were looking pretty silly when after their first two seasons the Giants had won the grand total of just three games out of 44.

But even more rational assessments, including those of recruiting men and AFL list managers, were, to say the least, bullish. They were of a club which once it had found its feet would be close to unstoppable, predictions not only of one premiership but several in a row commonplace.

The reality, seven seasons down the track is, of course, somewhat less golden. Since the core of its senior list matured, GWS has certainly been consistently competitive at the pointy end of the season.

But the bottom line is no flags, nor a grand final appearance, the heart-breaking six point loss to the Western Bulldogs in the 2016 preliminary final as close as the Giants have come to those grandiose early calls.

A lot has to go right for an AFL club to win a single premiership, let alone several, and way beyond simply putting together a group of young players who were highly-rated when they were plying their wares against other boys.

As much as anything, you need a reasonable dose of good fortune, and the Giants certainly haven’t had a lot of that, injuries playing havoc with their star core both this year and in 2017 as they attempted to go one step further on that near-miss.

But you also need continuity in a longer-term sense. That’s to be able to build over several years a group of core players around whom culture, values and minimum standards are created.

And this post-season trade period is only serving to emphasise just how difficult that is for a relatively new AFL club like the Giants, let alone one in Gold Coast which has experienced only a fraction of the relative on-field success GWS has.

Gold Coast has bled a steady stream of potential stars to rivals right from its 2011 kick-off, last summer lost its only marquee player in Gary Ablett, and this off-season will lose one co-captain in Tom Lynch and most likely the other in Steven May.

The Suns simply haven’t been able to offer enough encouragement to their best players to make them stay. But nor has their younger brother, despite now having competed in finals three years in a row. And for GWS, it’s hard to see the likely departures of Dylan Shiell, Tom Scully, Rory Lobb and Will Setterfield as anything else but a disaster.

In hindsight, it appears even seasoned football people underestimated the extent to which the introduction of free agency would let the genie out of the bottle in terms of overall player movement.

And that’s proving a killer blow, more than squaring off all the list and recruiting advantages the Suns and Giants were handed initially and were the cause of so much bleating from their rivals, who now sit back for a couple of years then pick off the cream of the crop.

It’s getting hard enough now for even the biggest of clubs to hang on to their biggest stars beyond their current contracts. So how big a task must it be for the “new kids”, unable to offer much other than the “overs” they inevitably have to pay to get players in the first place?

That seems to be the genesis of the sort of salary cap fire sale which is the story of this trade period for GWS. For if the Giants are going to maintain anything like a large enough group of stars brought up on and capable of continuing to drive the club brand, they’re going to need to load up the money bags.

Having already fought off a year ago serious attempts to pilfer Josh Kelly, the Giants face a repeat next year, Kelly only having signed a two-year extension in September 2017. Lachie Whitfield, Stephen Coniglio and Jeremy Cameron, too, are surely considered indispensable. But keeping them all means the club will pay through the nose.

So we continue to see an exodus of talent GWS would rather not lose. And at far too rapid a rate for the club to be able to lay down those solid cultural foundations which can be passed from generation to generation of players.

If all the players destined to leave the Giants this trade period do leave, GWS will be left with barely half the team which went so close to a grand final berth just two years ago.

Devon Smith, Nathan Wilson, Shiel, Scully and Lobb were all part of that side. Will Hoskin-Elliott, an emergency for that game, is gone, as is Caleb Marchbank, who would have been part of the best 22 but for injury.

It’s a churn rate far in excess of what anyone was anticipating seven years ago when the Giants’ AFL journey was about to begin. And with another dozen-plus players set to come out of contract in 2019, it’s an issue that doesn’t look likely to abate any time soon.

All of which makes the business of pursuing on-field success for the AFL’s newest club even harder. And those outlandish initial predictions about the Giants becoming a juggernaut even more the stuff of fantasy than they already were.

*This article first appeared at SPORTING NEWS.

1 Comment
  1. They will still be a potential Top 4 side in 2019 without Shiel (Scully and Setterfield hardly count given their respective contributions in 2018). They have 5 picks in the Top 30 at this year’s draft. How many of last season’s Top 8 can claim that privelege. Yes they may lose another couple of A graders next year but will get another handful of Top draft selections. I dont fear for GWS at all.

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