Ladder Position: 3rd (Eastern Conference)
Never has a team had such low expectations on what they would do on the field, yet have such high importance placed on what they are doing off it.
No one really expects the Giants to win anything except the clanger count in 2012. The AFL will be more concerned that the side win a place in the hearts of the four million residents of Greater Western Sydney than games of football this season.
The raft of concessions has seen the Giants amass a list full of the most-promising footballing talent in the country. These exciting teenagers are supplemented with more experienced players to lead (James McDonald), guide (Luke Power, Chad Cornes) and protect (Dean Brogan, Setanta O’hAilpin) them.
The Giants have the makings of a formidable midfield, with Tom Scully, Callan Ward, Rhys Palmer, Sam Reid and Stephen Clifton able to bridge the gap between the veterans – and on-field assistant coaches – McDonald and Power and the potential future, yet still teenaged, stars Stephen Coniglio, Dom Tyson, Devon Smith, Dylan Shiel and Adam Treloar. Brogan can capably serve a season as a master to rucking apprentices Tom Downie, Jon Giles and Andrew Phillips.
The backline is moderate with Chad Cornes supported by a capable fullback in Tim Mohr, with Matthew Buntine – who comes with big raps – and former top ten pick Phil Davis from Adelaide. The pre-season surgery for #1 pick Jonathon Patton leaves a gaping hole in the forward line, one you can’t see being filled by O’hAilpin or league convert Israel Folau. Hard-at-the-ball Adam Tomlinson, and Stingrays best and fairest Nick Hayes – who takes a good overhead mark – may prove to be more dangerous in front of the sticks.
Administratively though, the club until recently appeared in disarray, with no consistent training venue, funding issues and board room dramas making a fraught count-down to the teams debut AFL appearance. One can’t doubt Kevin Sheedy or Mark William’s experience and knowledge, with five flags from nearly forty seasons of coaching between them. However question marks do appear over their ability to adapt with, and relevance to, modern football.
The supporting line coaches are all inexperienced, and the player/coaching role of McDonald and Power hasn’t been seen in the AFL/VFL since Malcolm Blight in 1981. As a new side, the majority of the list has only been available to the club since December, so there hasn’t been much time to shape the young talent. It will very much be a case of boys against men for the 2012 Giants.
Tom Scully: The 2009 #1 draft pick will be desperate to put a contentious and injury-interrupted 2011 behind him. A potential long-term leader of the club, Scully has put the off-field distractions behind him and can realize some of his enormous potential with a hard and full pre-season under his belt.
James McDonald: While his own playing output may be moderate, McDonald’s role in leading and coaching a potential-filled midfield, as well as his player development endeavours, will be crucial to the future success of the Giants. Will also be doggedly digging in when things are down, as they will be, often.
Isreal Folau: As far as generating interest and support for the team, Folau will be vital. He will be under immense scrutiny from the outset, from well-meaning league fans, and death-riding footy purists alike. His influence on the future of recruiting will last much longer than his playing career.
Stephen Coniglio: With senior footy experience at the WAFL aged 16 and the stand-out player, as captain, at the National U18 Championships, the heavily credentialed youngster deserved his high draft pick and should be good to go from the outset.
Dom Tyson: Shown himself to be an astute, high-possession, hard-working midfielder averaging 22 possessions per game in the U18 Championships and 26 at TAC Cup level.
Jonathon Patton: A trip to Sweden for surgery to repair patellar tendinopathy, which will sideline him until at least May, has taken the gloss off Patton being top of the pops at the 2011 draft. But an imposing power-forward and potential figurehead ala Jonathan Brown/Barry Hall will be exactly what this team needs to fire public imagination.
“Thinking long term” will be the most heard phrase heard for GWS this year. They have raw talent in abundance, yet may not have the set up to turn this potential into playing performance for a few years yet. Will be a very medi-ochre season indeed with heavy losses the norm.