As expected, the first year for the Greater Western Sydney Giants was always going to be difficult. Under the guidance of veteran coach Kevin Sheedy, the Giants would inevitably win the wooden spoon. Dark horses for every game, the inexperienced side battled hard throughout the season to notch up just two wins. In a year of experimenting with the younger players, it is clear that Sheedy has a host of talent in front of him. Although the season was an arduous transition into league football, it has proved to be a valuable learning experience for the new boys of the AFL.
The tone was set for a tough season following a 129-point drubbing to North Melbourne at Blundstone Arena in Round 2. This was the first of five defeats over 100 points, as the younger bodies struggled to keep up with the more experienced teams of the competition. The most embarrassing of these thrashings would come in Round 15 against the uncompromising Hawks. Hawthorn would produce a clinical performance and win to the tune of 162 points, leaving the Giants humiliated. Most of these took place in the second half of the season, which was largely due to the young list tiring.
It was foreseeable that the Giants were going to be on the receiving end of several big losses in their maiden year. They did, however, put forward some respectable performances against quality opposition. In only their fourth game, the Adelaide Crows were left stunned early on by a relentless GWS and led by a mere 17 points half time. The club’s first time playing in Melbourne saw them match it with Carlton in the first half, and they also trailed the Tigers by a kick with less than ten minutes remaining in the last quarter. Much to the surprise of the football world, they went into half time level with Geelong at Simonds Stadium. The Giants did show flashes of brilliance, but lacked the experience and fitness to see out games.
GWS were finally rewarded in Round 7 with its inaugural victory coming against last year’s expansion team, the Gold Coast Suns. Trailing by four points going into the last quarter, the Giants kept the Suns scoreless and added five goals of their own to win by 27 points. It would take just under three months for the club’s second win, which was done in style for Sheedy’s 1000th game as a player and coach. More than 6,000 fans watched the Giants defeat Port Adelaide by a comfortable 34 points at the new Skoda Stadium. The win was never in doubt, as the exciting youth and maturate-aged players of the Giants combined beautifully to lead at every change.
Predictably, the Giants conceded the most goals and its average losing margin was the worst in the competition. The back half was heavily depleted in terms of height and mainly comprised of fresh draftees. The experience and strong build of Chad Cornes down back proved to be vital during the season, while co-captain Phi Davis was a reliable contributor at full back. Tomas Bugg and Adam Kennedy provided solid service, generating drive out of the backline and were both effective by foot. The unseasoned defence found it challenging to contain most forward lines in the competition and this was heavily reflected on the scoreboard.
There is no doubt that GWS will have one of the most explosive midfields in years to come. Nearly all clubs have established midfields, which made it rather tough for the first-year players. The Giants midfield showed that they could find the footy, but floundered at stoppages and they were the worst at getting the ball down into their forward half. Nevertheless, Sheedy would be pleased with the promising signs shown by some of his midfielders. Callan Ward relished the prospect of leading the growing midfield and was supported by veterans James McDonald and Luke Power. Ward’s consistent efforts throughout the season saw him take out the club’s first best and fairest award. He was also very stiff not to get selected in the 40-man All-Australian squad.
Although not outstanding, Tom Scully showed glimpses of why he was GWS’ most sought-after player last year and he will only get better with time. Toby Greene became recognised as a ball magnet, averaging over 28 disposals and coming runner-up in the best and fairest in only his first year. Stephen Coniglio, Dylan Shiel, Adam Treloar and Dom Tyson demonstrated that they are capable of playing at the top level and were all worthy of their Rising Star nominations. Mature-aged recruit Jonathan Giles was also very useful in the ruck and had the ability to go down forward and kick a few goals. Dean Brogan, Cornes, Giles, McDonald and Power were important recruits for the foundation year, seeing as their experience and presence on and off the field greatly assisted with the development of the first-year players.
Jeremy Cameron was the shining light for the Giants up forward. The absence of last year’s No.1 draft pick Jonathon Patton inevitably resulted in Cameron singlehandedly carrying the forward line. He was a lively option who presented well and pulled off some remarkable contested marks in the process. Topping the club’s goalkicking with 29 and finishing second in the Rising Star, the young gun has a promising career ahead of him. His combination with Patton is likely to cause opposition backlines many headaches in the future. Patton had an injury-plagued season, managing just the seven games. He will take time to mature as a footballer, though it is already evident that he has the potential to become one of the games most dangerous forwards. NRL convert Israel Folau showed very little in the 13 games he played and has a long way to go in establishing himself as an AFL footballer.
To Sheedy’s credit, he played 46 out of a possible 49 players and gave his youngsters the chance to play against the AFL’s elite on a weekly basis. GWS’ list has the potential to become a real genuine threat in the next five-seven years. The younger players just need more time to develop and they will certainly benefit from another full pre-season on the track and in the gym. The club will be looking to improve on this year’s efforts by claiming a couple more scalps and becoming more competitive across the ground and on the scoreboard. Another demanding season beckons for the Giants, but expect to see some improvement in 2013.
Mitchell Wood is a first-year Bachelor of Sport Journalism student at La Trobe University. You can follow him on Twitter: @Mitchell_Woody