Fact. Melbourne, Australia is the AFL capital of the world. Sure, the competition is national and interstate teams have won the coveted premiership cup 11 times to take it out of Victoria, however a couple of constants remain. The AFL is run from Melbourne, with 10 Melbourne based teams and two interstate clubs now relocated or amalgamated with a Melbourne component. Only 6 teams in the comp are outsiders. Fact two, The AFL and the folks at the Melbourne Cricket Ground want the Grand Final to be “in perpetuam” meaning the so-called national competition will always be Melbourne centric when it comes to the deciding venue.
So what does this have to do with the Greater Western Sydney Giants and their 10 point loss on Saturday night to Collingwood? Actually a lot. The Giants have only won 2 games from 15 matches played at the MCG. They have only kicked one, 100 point score and in terms of winning percentage at the ‘G they are only above the old Brisbane Bears and the long extinct University football club. The Giants winning percentage is at an abysmal 13.33 %. The lowest and closest premiership team near that figure is the Brisbane Lions with 31.00%. Numbers and stats don’t propel the ball through the goalposts, nor do they tackle players. They do however tell a story about how a club operates in a certain environment and the MCG as it stands in 2018, is absolute poison to the Giants premiership aspirations. Throw in established club histories of the Melbourne clubs and associated massive supporter base, it is another obstacle the Giants have to learn to overcome.
Saturday’s game against Collingwood was a chance for the Giants to redeem themselves after last years disappointing preliminary final against Richmond. We were told by the players, the coaches that they had learned their lessons about the parochial crowd, dealing with the noise, making use of a finals opportunities etc etc. Sadly nothing changed. The first 15 minutes of the game was just a carbon copy of last’s years prelim. Collingwood dominated the Giants with 14-2 inside the 50 metre area. There was zero composure shown by the Giants defense, who simply blazed the ball out of defense and to a teammate that more often than not had two or more players on them. The game should have been over earlier for Collingwood if not for errant kicking. After that period, it was a case of the Giants playing catch up football and despite fighting on bravely they were unable to head-off Collingwood and lost the game by 10 points.
Jordan DeGoey was clearly the match winner. He was matched up with Matt Buntine who had no answers for the dominant Pies forward, nor did Nick Haynes when he was later moved onto DeGoey. Giants defense coach Mark “Spike” McVeigh threw up a defensive strategy that clearly didnt work and it appeared to me to be two dimensional. There was no lateral thinking on the problem. Maybe Dylan Shiel, Brett Deledio or Stephen Coniglio could have been moved onto DeGoey, as they had the speed and bulk.
Up forward Toby Greene had a nightmare game and was soundly beaten by Brayden Maynard. Jeremy Cameron couldn’t gain any traction in the forward line. He shanked kicks, missed a crucial shot at goal in the final term especially when his team needed one. Harry Himmelburg had an average night and like Cameron, missed a goal that had to be kicked in the final term. Callan Ward wasn’t his effective self and went missing. For all of the failing there were no excuses. I don’t buy into the injuries line. It’s part and parcel of the game, but in AFL team squads nothing is ever perfect. Sure Kelly, Scully, Simpson and Shaw all would have made a big difference, but they weren’t there and this game was winnable. Going by last week’s form the Giants coped without those names very well.
As for the tears in the rooms on Saturday night spare me please. Harsh? perhaps, but already this team has been here before via two painful losses against the Western Bulldogs in a home preliminary and the Tigers last year. The hurt from those previous lessons weren’t acted on. Callan Ward was inconsolable in the rooms after the game and whilst not doubting his pain,this emotion has to be used for better purposes and outcomes. Sports science has it place, but team culture and getting square also has a place. If the pain of defeats like Saturday hurt, the players have to channel that pain into kicking a ball straighter, tackling harder, doing more homework on an opponent, making winning a grand final the one and only priority in a footballer’s life. Sometimes one wonders if players just cruise along, taking big money, doing the physical work and it’s just another job.
So where to now for the Giants? the priority draft picks and favorable moves are long over. Already Ryan Griffen is gone, announcing his retirement immediately after the game.This club needs to build a culture and a winning culture at the MCG. They HAVE to win more games there, despite the limited opportunities. Otherwise there will be more heartaches, more tears, more glum scenes in the sheds after a finals loss. Suggestion, the Giants should learn more about the place, stay for a couple of days afterwards and see what the other team feels like when they win. Let the disappointment and anguish burn, but use it for good, use it for motivation. If my observations are scathing, perhaps it’s driven by the “monoculture” and belief that Melbourne is the centre of the football universe. I buy 100% into the national league competition and I want to see Greater Western Sydney Giants and the Sydney Swans dominate and win flags and bring them back to New South Wales. In the Giants case, until such times, the folks in Melbourne will remain to see our New South Wales clubs as pure outsiders or “mandarins” as one Pies supporter yelled out to a Giants player on Saturday night. The Giants must work out what do they stand for as a club moving forward, do they wish to remain to being described as a high-end sportscar? or as a successful premiership team.
COLLINGWOOD 3.6 4.9 6.12 9.15 (69)
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY 0.2 4.2 7.3 9.5 (59)
Collingwood: De Goey 3, Thomas 2, Hoskin-Elliott 2, Mihocek, Varcoe
Greater Western Sydney: Coniglio 2, Griffen, Himmelberg, Lobb, Cameron, Langdon, De Boer
Collingwood: De Goey, Sidebottom, Howe, Treloar, Maynard
Greater Western Sydney: Coniglio, Shiel, Hopper
Greater Western Sydney: Davis (shoulder)
Umpires: Ray Chamberlain, Rob Findlay, Shaun Ryan
Official crowd: 72,504 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Jolimont, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia