The Greater Western Sydney Giants back-line coach Mark “Spike” McViegh was still shaking his head in the Giants sheds well after the final siren. He’d looked like he’d been dangled out from the 99th floor window of a 100 storey building, the anxiety palpable. McVeigh, the Giants players and staff breathed a sigh of relief after winning one of the toughest games played in the club’s history when they defeated the Adelaide Crows by 14 points. The Giants players led by Phil Davis, slowly built up the player’s circle for the song. Then when it came to tell the world they would never surrender, the boys put out measured version, not from exhaustion, but from focus, because this season isn’t done by a long shot. There is no time to relax. This tension, this focus is fueled by what winning and losing means right at this point of the season, where a double chance, a sudden death play off or simply no finals can be the outcome.
It is a season end without compromise and the Greater Western Sydney Giants stood the test on Saturday night in Canberra. And like last week, the Giants had to find a way to cover for injured players. Sam Reid, (hamstring) Josh Kelly (concussion) and Heath Shaw (knee) were the men to grace the pine. To Adelaide’s absolute credit, they did not give in,with their season on the line, they were simply unable to overcome a tenacious Giants team, that refused to yield despite the perilous condition of their playing list.
The Crows were expected to give a good showing, with their season on the line and it began well. In the blink of an eyelid, Josh Jenkins kicked the first goal in 15 seconds. The Giants responded soon after when Harry Himmelberg laid a fast tackle on Hugh Greenwood who was deemed to be holding the ball. Himmelberg kicked truly for the Giants first goal. The pattern of one for one goal scoring would continue, however the Giants defense were not disposing of the ball properly and made several turnovers. The Crows cashed in on the scoreboard and were only a point behind at the first break.
Adelaide had an excellent second quarter. They built on their early momentum and continued to press. The Giants looked flat, as the Crows easily ran the ball out of their backline without any pressure and into attack. Adelaide defender Tom Doedee helped with the rebounding effect. Brodie Smith was the Crows best in the midfield and was amongst everything. He amassed 29 disposals, took 6 marks and laid 4 tackles. He was ably assisted by Matt Crouch who had 30 disposals and Bryce Gibbs who also worked hard in the contest, laying 7 tackles and picking up 2 goals and 20 disposals. The Giants were able to claw a much needed goal 5 minutes out from the main break thanks to a Jeremy Cameron goal. They headed into the sheds with the need to re-calibrate as the Crows led by 4 points.
The big test for the Giants came in the 2nd half of the match, were it became a battle of attrition with regards to injuries. The 3rd term began well enough for the Giants. They made adjustments to their playing style and were starting to move the ball through the midfield in their characteristic “tsunami” style. Remarkably, the Giants had the first seven scoring shots for the quarter, which was broken up by a Crows goal at the half-way point. Aidan Bonar continued to impress playing in only his second AFL game. He already looks quite at home in the Giants forward line. He kicked two goals and could have had more except for errant kicking. Bonar is delivering on the promise of consistent form as shown in the 2018 NEAFL season.
The injury toll started in the 3rd term, with Sam Reid taken off the ground with a hamstring injury. Then later in the term, Crows skipper Taylor Walker vigorously applied a solid tackle on Josh Kelly. Kelly was slung to the ground with his head banging hard into the turf. Kelly appeared to be knocked out and had to be taken from the ground. Kelly looked a little worse for wear and did not participate any further in the match. Walker would later face a 2 week suspension from the AFL match review due to the clumsy tackle.
The final quarter whilst not spectacular, was gripping in terms of how the Giants managed to not only score goals, but in how they were able to cover for three injured players and take considerable time off the game clock through well executed tempo-football. Goals to Bonar and Cameron helped the Giants edge closer to the win. Adelaide kept coming and should have been closer, but they kicked poorly and were unable to take advantage of their efforts. After a Richard Douglas goal, they kicked 4 consecutive behinds. For the Giants they would suffer yet another significant injury, this time to key half-back flanker Heath Shaw who damaged his knee and had to be carted off the ground. Later, Jacob Hopper was able to kick a clutch goal for the Giants and place a handy buffer on the scoreboard.
The final seven minutes of the game were instructional on just how well the Giants dealt with the injury issues, how they defended against a team who refused to stop trying and in how the were able to control the flow on the game. Much of the final term was played close to the members stand side of Manuka Oval. Each Giants player did their bit, via a tackle or short accurate positional kick. They locked the ball in and did not allow the likes of Rory Sloan or Sam Jacobs from Adelaide to dictate the ball around the contest. It was inspiring to watch. Giants coach Leon Cameron stood on the sidelines watching every play and managing the bench. It was a super effort from his part as well. He remained calm and put into place a game plan that covered for the losses.
In an era where stats and disposal tallies are the key indicator of how a football game is decided, the one element of the game of Australian Rules Football that is difficult to measure, heart, was clearly in play for the Giants on Saturday night in Canberra. We’ve seen the boys over the years maul the Swans in their finals debut, hang on for their first ever AFL win against the Gold Coast, steal a win against the Tigers last year. Yet this win in terms of sheer guts, heart and determination was one of the best ever in the club’s history and truly was a team effort.
Giants coach Leon Cameron described the gritty win as “outstanding”. Coach Cameron went on to say “Our boys are just finding a way when the chips are down and things aren’t going their way with all of the injuries. I couldn’t be anymore prouder of the boys at the moment”. Despite the loss, Adelaide Crows coach Don Pyke was pleased in the way his side never gave up “We kept coming.It looked like it was getting out of control in the 3rd quarter, but to the guys credit, we hung in there. We had our opportunities but couldn’t put it on the board”.
As stated earlier, the 2018 AFL season remains a relenting task with finals positions and double chances still yet to be decided two games from the end of the regular play. Next week it will the 15th “Battle of the Bridge” when Greater Western Sydney (3rd, 13 wins, 6 losses, 1 draw) face the Sydney Swans (6th, 13 wins, 7 losses) at the Sydney Showgrounds next Saturday afternoon. It is going to be a massive game with finals ramifications at play and is sure to be a sell-out.
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY 4.4 6.9 11.14 15.16 (106)
ADELAIDE 4.3 7.7 10.9 13.14 (92)
Greater Western Sydney: Bonar 2, Himmelberg 2, Cameron 2, Hopper 2, Coniglio 2, Lobb, Whitfield, Griffen, Shiel, Kelly
Adelaide: Jenkins 3, Murphy 2, Lynch 2, Gibbs 2, Douglas, Mackay, Betts, Walker
Greater Western Sydney: Whitfield, Ward, Lobb, Hopper
Adelaide: Smith, Sloane, Lynch, Gibbs, Jenkins
Greater Western Sydney: Matt de Boer (hamstring) replaced in selected side by Lachie Keeffe, Sam Reid (hamstring), Josh Kelly (concussion), Heath Shaw (knee)
Umpires: Andrew Stephens, Ray Chamberlain, Shane McInerney
Official crowd: 13,249 at Manuka Oval, Griffith, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory (UNSW Canberra Oval)