The Greater Western Sydney Giants 2017 AFL season is over after an underwhelming effort against the Richmond Tigers on Saturday at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The Giants were unable to deal with the relentless pressure that the Tigers applied, nor were they able to shut out the massive 90,000+ pro-Richmond crowd that clearly had the Giants rattled from the instant the game began. Richmond running out winners by 36 points and advancing to a grand final match up against the Adelaide Crows next week.
It was a hot, sunny, windy spring day that greeted the early patrons as they made their way to the MCG. Since their was no curtain raiser, crowd numbers slowly filed into the MCG, music played quietly in the background and people chatted in the carnival like atmosphere pre-game. Both squads could be seen walking out into the middle of the ground, with players casually toeing a soccer ball or bouncing a football as they craned their necks and looked at the sky for conditions. It was the calm before the storm as a grand final spot beckoned.
The pre-game groove soon faded and it was game time and what an intense experience it was. The brave Greater Western Sydney Giants faced a massive pro Richmond crowd. The way the stadium is configured it looked like the Tiger hordes hung over the ground and as soon as the Giants hit the turf they were booed. The infamous GWS Giants club song was drowned out.
Then it was Richmond’s turn to enter. The roar was deafening as they pounded into their banner which read “Together We Stand Strong and Bold”. The Tiger’s hadn’t been to a grand final for 35 years and the success starved fans screamed their approval at the appearance of the yellow and black jumpers.
With all the pre-game talk from the Giants about how the crowd wasn’t going to affect their game,that was quickly dispatched as Richmond poured on two super fast goals that had the crowd in utter fever pitch.In the first goal, a long Richmond kick from the centre saw 3 Giants defenders leap for the ball (refer to pic below) Heath Shaw pushed forward at the bottom of the pack, leaving Kane Lambert with a handy gap between the action and the goal.Dustin Martin roved the pack beautifully to hand-pass the ball to Lambert who kicked a goal to a delirious roar and all in under twenty plus seconds.Seconds later a shell shocked Heath Shaw fumbled at a ball that was slammed forward and again Dustin Martin got a hold of the ball handpassing to a team mate before Josh Caddy was found on a lead in the pocket. He kicked truly and the worst start was underway for the Giants. It was obvious, they were clearly rattled. Shaw began badly, he’d played in a similar fashion against Adelaide. The usual confidence and solid application to the ball just wasn’t there for Shaw. It was surprising considering the brilliant, tough game he played in last year’s qualifying final against Sydney. That toughness and sure handed play was missing and would continue thoroughout the game.
To the absolute credit of the Giants resolve and coaching staff, the GWS team were able to adsorb the early blows they had encountered, they settled and soon were back on even terms with Richmond. Harrison Himmelberg took a solid mark with a nasty spoil attempt from Dylan Grimes of Richmond. The blow gave Himmelberg a nasty black eye and swollen eye-lid, but Harry was superb as he kicked the team’s first goal. Minutes later he would kick another right in front of goals. It was such an impressive effort from the young forward, considering the blow he copped from Grimes, the ability to slot the goal and then go on to take another mark and goal was just exceptional from Himmelberg.
In the most contentious incident of the game and what will become finals folklore, GWS dynamic midfielder Dylan Shiel copped a very heavy knock from Richmond’s Trent Cotchin near the wing, five minutes into the first quarter. On first look it just looked like a typical hard ball contest, yet on closer inspection Cotchin’s intent was to slam into Sheil whilst going for the ball. Shiel was severely concussed and taken off the ground. His game was over. It was a massive blow to the Giants grand final dream.For those who thought there was nothing in the hit, we observed Dylan walk down the race after the half time siren. He was clearly unwell and his gait was wobbly. I will never, repeat, never forget the haunting, chilling vacant stare Dylan gave me as he went down the race. Very shortly after that observation, Shiel clutched at a GWS trainer to keep his balance as he headed into the sheds and asked for support. Days later, confusingly Cotchin was found to have no case to answer by the AFL Match Review Panel which was a stunning result. Shiel had clearly been targeted by Cotchin and with Cotchin’s previous form, should have been suspended from the grand final game. The incident made a sham of the rules and so called protection of player’s head areas. Instead the pundit commentary got caught up in the “Cotchin cant miss a grand final” angle..bunkum, in our eyes absolute bunkum. Dylan Shiel had his grand final chance taken away by Cotchin and it was bad decision by the MRP.
The first quarter ended with Richmond just in front. It could have been the Giants had Jon Patton stepped back with 15 seconds remaining, but he chose to play on and the siren rang on a blown forward play. With Shiel gone and the blistering start the Giants had faced, it was a pretty decent effort by the GWS boys to remain in touch. The second quarter could have been a game changer for the Giants had they kicked straighter. It was during this term they wen out to a 7 point lead. Firstly Josh Kelly marked in the city end pocket and slotted home a superb goal. Giants skipper, Callan Ward was sensational in the centre. After missing last year’s preliminary via concussion, he was determined to make up for it. He also kicked truly and the Giants had a handy goal buffer. Then misses by Matt de Boer and Ward which should have seen the Giants up by a couple of goals, was now only a minuscule lead that was quickly back in the Tigers favour thanks to a Dan Rioli goal.
To quote an AFL football cliche, this game was done and dusted in the “premiership” quarter being the third quarter. It was here that the Giants lost the game. It was a combination of Richmond being simply too good, terrible umpiring and GWS players not being able to cope with the intense pressure that finals bring. That pressure was exacerbated by the manic Richmond crowd. Steve Johnson brought into the team due to his finals ability, imploded in terrible fashion. His decision making was stunningly awful. At the top of the 50 metre arc and with a shot on goal, he inexplicably hand-passed to Nathan Wilson who wildly sprayed his kick across the goal. The other howler from Johnson was a terrible kick backwards towards the Richmond side of the ground. The Giants were falling to pieces as the Richmond team sensed victory. Daniel Rioli was stunning with two amazing goals that had the MCG buzzing. Dustin Martin was also on fire and kicked two goals for the term. The Giants could only manage a single goal via Callan Ward. Nothing was going right for the GWS. Throw in a terrible deliberate out of bounds awarded against Toby Greene (who had an awful, forgettable game) and you knew the day wasn’t going to be for the Giants. The final term saw the GWS gain a small opening before Richmond shut the door and went out winners by 36 points to go on to face the Adelaide Crows at the grand final next week at the MCG.
It was such a disappointing end for the GWS Giants who were in their consecutive preliminary final. Several Giants players had games that will haunt them for years to come if they are unable to make a grand final. Toby Greene was terrible, Steve Johnson mercifully is retiring. Brett Deledio should possibly consider retiring as he had an awful game, considering it was his finals debut and 250th game. He was clearly found out by the pressure cooker finals atmosphere. Heath Shaw uncharacteristically looked out of sorts. He looked uncomfortable against Adelaide a couple of weeks ago and on Saturday. Jon Patton looked slow and sluggish. In part we believe it was due to the mistaken team selection. GWS ruckman Dawson Simpson should have played and freed up Rory Lobb. Both Lobb and Patton could have focused on forward play, but had to worry about rucking. Tim Taranto just didn’t look comfortable after an impressive debut last week. He looked indecisive at times and had little impact. Lachie Whitfield also had a forgettable finals series. He needs to work harder and stop being a “boundary rider”, “receiver” type of player. He has all the ability in the world, but he must create plays to be an effective player. Matt De Boer did enough and has been in our opinion easily the best pick up for the Giants this year. On the coaching side, Leon Cameron cannot get a free pass out of this. He made some mistakes at the selection table. As we stated Dawson Simpson should have been brought in to cover the loss of Shane Mumford. The reliance of veteran players cannot be an option for this club going forward. They were found out big league over the weekend. I also don’t buy into the injuries excuse that was rolled out. There were plenty of players to chose from Matt Kennedy, Harry Perryman, Will Setterfield, Tendai Mzungu, Dawson Simpson,Daniel Lloyd and Sam Reid. All capable players. I think Sam Reid would have made a difference as would have Matt Kennedy.
On the positive side, co-captain Phil Davis kept Jack Riewoldt to only 8 disposals and one goal. Here’s a bloke who did say he’d try to improve on last year’s disappointment and he did that. He was inconsolable after the game, openly weeping at the bitter disappointment of missing out on a debut grand final. Tom Scully ran his heart out in the midfield, Jacob Hopper picked up 27 disposals. He is the future of this team and if he and Taranto can keep improving it will help the Giants return to the big dance. Harry Himmleburg grew as a player in the first minutes of this game. That belt he took from the out of line Tigers defender in Grimes was nasty. Some clown in the race during the incident said “there was nothing in it” to which I said “You have to be kidding” as I voiced my disgust at the hard hit Harry received. He finished with four goals and won plenty of respect. Stephen Coniglio was another who tried hard. Adam Tomlinson was good, but he made some errors when it mattered in an otherwise serviceable game. Cal Ward was unreal as was Josh Kelly. Maybe it’s time for Josh Kelly to be the captain of the side with all due respect to Davis and Ward. The Giants need to change their approach. Two consecutive preliminary final losses with an abundance of talent wont sit well with GWS supremos Dave Matthews and Tony Shepard. No doubt they will review the hows and why’s, you could almost see Dave Matthews thoughts churning at the loss. The GWS Giants supporters who did turn up gave a great sight. Massive kudos to Seb Dell’Orefice who looked fantastic in the orange and the GWS band that had the club song played at every Giants goal was cute and kind of bizarre and had a “Fellini” feel about it.
The other significant thing the GWS Giants need to address in cold, plain terms is start winning at the MCG.12 games played for only 1 win over a 6 year period and with only one score of 100 points is simply unacceptable. They faced a team steeped in tradition and a solid Melbourne fan base. The Giants need to build a team culture. They do have the tradition of families and friends surging into the rooms after a win. It’s a big contingent and adds to the great and unique vibe this team has. They have a great cheer squad who is loyal and follows them to every game. Like the Sydney Swans, the Giants have to learn how to overcome the Melbourne syndrome. They need to adapt and deal with Melbourne crowds. The Giants were clearly affected by the crowd on Saturday, yet adjusted and dealt with the pressure as best they could. On the media side, it was unfortunate that the Giants had to leave ASAP. There wasn’t an opportunity to hear what several players thought immediately after the game. That is now left to history. Considering it was the Giants first MCG final, such an important record of the moments after will not be heard. Steve Johnson spoke to a combined presser, but I would have liked to have heard from Phil Davis and Cal Ward about what they thought. I think the club was pretty shaken by the whole experience. They will surely learn from such a bitter defeat.
RICHMOND 4.3 5.7 11.11 15.13 (103)
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY 3.3 5.6 6.10 9.13 (67)
Richmond: Rioli 4, Martin 3, Butler 2, Lambert, Caddy, Castagna, Townsend, Edwards, Riewoldt
Greater Western Sydney: Himmelberg 4, Ward 3, Kelly, Patton
Richmond: Rioli, Martin, Rance
Greater Western Sydney: Ward, Davis, Himmelberg
Greater Western Sydney: Dylan Shiel (concussion)
Umpires: Matthew Nicholls, Simon Meredith, Shaun Ryan
Official crowd: 94,258 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground