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It’s a much longer way to the top for the Giants now

We’re did we go wrong? A pensive GWS youngster Harry Perryman ponders the Giants’ round 18 loss to Richmond at the MCG. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

It’s a much longer way to the top for the Giants now

Rohan Connolly    

Last year’s AFL season was remarkable for the fairytale it delivered courtesy of the Western Bulldogs’ first premiership for 62 years. The postscript was remarkable, too, for different reasons.

When speculation turned to 2017, the raging favourite to stand on the dais 12 months hence wasn’t the Dogs, nor the Sydney outfit they’d beaten for the flag, but a team which hadn’t even made it to grand final day.

Greater Western Sydney was No.3 on the AFL charts, but with a massive bullet, the Giants famously pipped by the Bulldogs in the preliminary final, but their march towards greater heights seemingly inevitable. Come the lead-up to this season, barely a tipster in the land didn’t have GWS, if not winning the 2017 premiership, at least playing off for it.

The Giants’ list is chock-full of precocious talent and early draft picks. By the time this season began, they still had the 12th-youngest playing group in the competition, but in terms of games played the fourth most-experienced, the sort of correlation list managers could previously only fantasise about.

Yet here we are headed into week two of the 2017 finals series and GWS is hanging on by a thread only, completely routed early by Adelaide in last week’s qualifying final, and now playing for its life against a West Coast side high on an amazing victory over Port Adelaide, and which has pushed the Giants all the way in both meetings this season.

After seemingly cruising through the first half of 2017, winning nine of their first 11 games, the Giants have stumbled repeatedly in the second, winning only five and drawing two of 12 games since.

Structural and perhaps coaching issues have emerged. GWS has been roundly criticised since the qualifying final loss to the Crows of going into the game top-heavy.

There’s certainly an unhealthy dependence on tall forwards Jonathon Patton, Jeremy Cameron and Rory Lobb, Cameron along with No.1 ruckman Shane Mumford now lost for the rest of the finals. And the Giants’ forward structure as a whole has been short of the mark this season.

In 2016, GWS was the second-highest scoring team in the AFL, averaging 108 points per game. That’s slipped to just 94 points this season, for a ranking of sixth. And there’s an alarming disconnect between a midfield which ranks first in the differentials for clearances, and a forward line which ranks only 13th for converting those clearance wins into scores.

They are controllables, and need to be addressed pronto. But whatever happens on Saturday night, and perhaps beyond, this year has been a reminder that even for a looming football juggernaut like GWS, there are only so many things within your control.

Injuries, for one. They’ve plagued the Giants all season, barely a game in which they have been able to put close to their best side on the park, at one stage something like 14 players consigned to the casualty list and unavailable for selection.

That’s been a huge factor in the Giants’ stuttering progress throughout 2017. But a couple of other less tangible and also uncontrollable factors seem to be adding up, too.

More and more seasoned observers are asking whether the GWS glut of individual talent has in some ways become a millstone.

It’s noteworthy that the Giants’ performances have declined as the injured masses have returned to the fray. Lack of continuity certainly hasn’t helped build a 22 that teams seamlessly and knows each other’s movements inside out.

But you do also find yourself asking whether at a sub-conscious level the talent level within the club acts as a crutch of sorts. Does a Giants’ senior player have a dangerous security blanket that if he can’t rise to the occasion somebody else will pick up the slack?

GWS is a well-run club, very conscious of its place as an AFL infant in a territory not steeped in football culture. Their “newness” is unavoidable.

But in just their sixth season, and at a time of year like this, when rivals in a football heartland are soaking up every drop of finals fever, can the Giants manufacture the same sense of fervour among their players as their rivals?

They obviously can’t manufacture as much crowd support. And that, too, is looming as an even larger factor than some may have imagined. GWS will have plenty of that on Saturday night at Spotless Stadium. But beat the Eagles, and boy, will that change in a hurry.

While the abundance of corporates on grand final day regularly sees support at the MCG split 50-50, they don’t call the preliminary final the “people’s final” for nothing. It’s the last vestige of parochial club support, and on Saturday week, we’re going to see it at its most ferocious.

I sat on the boundary for last Friday night’s Geelong-Richmond qualifying final as part of more than 95,000 fans. Seldom, if ever, can I remember such a disparity of support between two Victorian teams in a final, the roar every time the Tigers kicked a goal and particularly during their last-quarter rampage, as loud as I can remember.

The Cats’ following appeared dwarfed. So what is a Richmond-GWS preliminary final going to sound like? It could well be the most one-sided crowd a Melbourne final has ever seen. Howl me down, but I reckon that’s got to be worth a few goals at least.

Goals that GWS in its current state simply can’t afford to give up. For this season is proving far from the triumphant march to a premiership many predicted around this time a year ago. And the Giants are going to have to be even better than we thought they’d be to deliver it now.

1 Comment
  1. As a Giants fan, I keep waiting for some decent media examination to be focused on Leon Cameron. Most coaches can at least claim to be good at coaching but limited by talent (see: Nathan Buckley), but that rings false at the Giants. If the team isn’t succeeding, it isn’t a talent issue, and therefore points to coaching. This year the Giants have repeatedly performed poorly against the really well coached teams. I sat in the stands and watched the Giants repeatedly bombing the ball to Carlton’s loose players (often 2 loose behind the ball) in the loss at Etihad stadium, and saw no adjustment from the coaching box. The Giants are repeatedly cut apart by the opposition’s best players. Don’t coaches preach “Don’t get beaten by what you know”? Dylan Shiel has been tagged a lot in the second half of the season, and must come off the ground with genuine envy at the free run given to his opposition mids. The Giants have shown an absolute inability to learn from losses (or even narrow wins). The team selection issue, with Leon Cameron seemingly wedded to his talls, is now at least getting the media attention. When was the last time a game was won by having lots of talls taking big marks? You could make a strong case for being better off playing 22 midfielders in 2017 football. I firmly believe, as a Giants fan, that if Leon Cameron is left in charge, then there won’t be a flag coming with this group. Hutchy was slammed for saying Leon Cameron was a kid with the keys to Dad’s Ferrari, but if anything 2017 has revealed it. And as a Giants fan, it makes me sad.

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