2019 AFL Grand Final – GWS Giants’ coming of age with the old and the new


The Greater Western Sydney Giants. Those brash and talented Giants. The youngest club in the League goes into its first Grand Final eight seasons after officially entering the competition in 2012, with their first game against the Sydney Swans on March 24. At the time they were full of what was considered the best young, albeit raw, talent in the country, mixed in with a handful of veterans. The AFL had granted the club, along with the Gold Coast Suns, a number of concessions giving them access to what other AFL clubs could only dream of. Add in significant financial assistance provided by the AFL, and this has remained and still remains for some followers of the game a bitter talking point, a throwaway line to explain why the Giants have had the success they have had, and the strongest support for those who argue the Giants have underachieved during their time in the AFL. Not quite playing to their full potential considering the money and access to players handed to them……we have heard some version of this discussion around the water cooler and throughout the media on more than a few occasions over the years. I must admit even I have thought at times, particularly in their early years, “they have been given a lot so no wonder they’re going okay”.


Many have also said that the first period of opportunity for real success may have passed. The opportunity to capitalise on a talented group of players who had gained valuable experience through accumulating AFL games, to go with their obvious talent, had been missed in the form of two consecutive preliminary final losses. Add to those losses a group of those early players having departed for opposition clubs and, regardless of all the assistance and all the talent, some thought maybe the Giants didn’t have what it took when it really counted.


For a large period of their existence, the external Giants narrative has been built on this perception that the natural talent they have has been a large driver in the success they have had. Silky and smooth without the grind. The irony in this perception was there for all to see in last Saturday’s Preliminary Final, while also being there for the majority of this season upon a more thorough look.


Yes, they had some of the core group of Giants playing who had arrived at the club via some form of concession, be it draft, trade leverage or academy selections. Davis, Cameron, Kelly, Williams (who played the game of his life), Tomlinson, Haynes and Shaw, just to name a few who have been there the longest. And, yes, the notable absentees of this core group of concessions in Coniglio, Greene and Whitfield had played a substantial role before Saturday’s game, both during their 2019 home and away season and finals series to date. But this Giants team, who had their struggles in 2019, losing three on the trot to sit 9-7 before consecutive thrashings at the hands of the Hawks and Bulldogs almost a month later, ground their way to a 6th place finish through a team of role players. In the absence of key players throughout the season, it was a mix of young blood, old heads and previously discarded players who helped drive the side forward along with the core talent.


Sam Reid moved over in 2012 after 10 games across four seasons with the Bulldogs, before playing a combined 33 games in his first 4 seasons with the Giants. He persisted, continuing to play a role which led to 21 games last season and playing all 25 games in an integral role this season, including running with some of the opposition’s best each week on a wing. Shane Mumford looked like he’d left an AFL career behind before returning amongst controversy after a year out of the game to battle and bash his way through 19 games. Lachie Keeffe was discarded after his drugs controversy, with the Giants offering him a second chance which he took and ran with on Saturday, adding to his 9 games played for the season. Matt De Boer’s 2019 has been highlighted throughout the media, playing a critical shutdown role in a traditionally offensive-minded midfield, which has been seen as a missing ingredient for the Giants. Throw in some of the younger, inexperienced players who have played a role, namely the rookie drafted Daniel Lloyd, Brent Daniels, Harry Perryman and Sam Taylor, and you can start to see that this isn’t the ‘stereotypical’ Giants side we are used to.


Jeremy Finlayson is another who symbolises a Giants side which has remoulded the early foundation on which it was built. Taken at pick 85 in the 2014 national draft, Finlayson was moved forward to play a role after initially starting his career in defence, with the likes of Haynes, Davis and new addition Sam Taylor providing more than ample coverage in the key defensive posts. ‘Playing your role’ week in week out led to a growth in confidence and subsequent breakout season, kicking 44 goals in 22 games and always posing a threat. So much has his confidence grown that he has the potential to have a significant impact on Saturday’s outcome.


As much assistance as the Giant’s might have received, credit must be given where it is due. You only have to compare them to the Gold Coast Suns to realise that they have been able to take what was given to them and build something sustainable. Success does not just come. A rugby dominated market, low membership base, small crowds, and trying to gel a group of players of which the majority are used to being one of, if not, the best player in the team. Starting with the succession plan put in place for Sheedy to hand over the reigns to Leon Cameron, for the most part the Giants have done it with a high degree of success. They’ve managed the talent by being willing to trade those who wanted to leave while at the same time targeting those seen as a priority to keep. They have recruited experienced players well from the beginning, both in terms of on-field quality and commitment to the club. Ward, Davis, Shaw, Mumford, Stevie J, Brett Deledio and Reid are either still having, or did have, an influence for a sustained period of time. And, in what is probably the most substantial progression, Leon Cameron truly has a side based on each player fulfilling his role each week. This is no longer a Giant’s team banking wins purely based on talent. They now have a brand which has seen them win three finals in a row, travelling twice along the way and continuing to battle persistent injuries. Despite being knocked down on occasion, they never quite went away.


Richmond are built in a very similar fashion and perhaps laid the blueprint for others in 2017, where a gradual progression led to a premiership and sustained success which sees them in another grand final this weekend. The odds will be against the Giants but, from what we know in 2019, they will go in full of belief and, regardless of the result, this season on reflection should go down as one where the Giants are universally respected for what they have achieved.



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  1. Brandon, a thorough coverage of the Giants from their humble beginnings through to their biggest day yet tomorrow. I’d be interested to know a few more of your thoughts on the significance of Kevin Sheedy in the establishment of the franchise.

  2. Serious analysis Brandon. Both teams play Unsociable Football. Hard, tough, brutal and team oriented. It is a remarkable transition from the silky Giants who thrashed the Eagles in the 2017 Semi but succumbed to the Tiger machine in the Prelim.
    If the Giants can get a good start I think they can win. Both Brisbane and Geelong dominated them in the first half but could not capitalise or sustain the effort – which is to the Tigers credit. But they grind you rather than blind you like the dominant Hawks/Lions teams of this millennium.
    Alan Jeans maxim that the best bottom 6 players win flags has never been truer and the Giants bat very deep. Enormous credit to Cameron, Sheedy and the strategic plan of relentless improvement and winnowing out the “look at me” mentality. Embodied by Stephen Coniglio’s selfless withdrawal. Class act.
    Go Giants. Great to see Swan Districts talent in both clubs – on and off the park (Broad and Taylor playing; Rance and Coniglio watching). Great credit to a small struggling WAFL club’s ability to foster talent.

  3. Earl O'Neill says

    Excellent piece, Brandon, thanks.
    GWS have never traded out a player they’d miss. Last year, overrated Shiel, vastly overrated Lobb, questionable Scully. Hardnosed list management.
    The Orange Tsunami was a wonderful thing, made for a younger team. They’re older and tougher and this September has forged an identity. Kinda like a team of back pocket plumbers.
    Sheedy, Barassi and Matthews were instrumental in the making of northern teams. GC should have signed Malthouse.

  4. Stephen Castieau says

    I think the amount of financial assistance given to the giants is exaggerated.This year their allocation from the AFL was $22m only $4M more than St Kild

  5. Brandon was a team mate of Stephen Coniglio and Nathan Broad at Swan Districts Colts. Had been playing League @Swans but a recurring back injury kept him out this season, and he was Assistant Coach for their Reserves. Brandon is a left footed key marking defender and his footy hero is (was?) Tom Barrass. As sharp a footy brain as you will find. Hope he gets back on the park next season.

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