Deeply disappointing, at times embarrassing
After three intensive weeks of incredible finals football, the Giants spectacularly fell at the final hurdle of their debut grand final. It was such an undeserving outcome all things considered, however the club cannot, nor should they sugar coat this result if they wish to take that extra step on grand final day. There were many mistakes made on and off the field and for history’s sake they must be spoken about. Firstly, the disastrous pre-game fitness test regarding Phil Davis. I’ve witnessed 9 grand finals and have never seen such a debacle as was the case come Saturday. In previous grand finals, clubs have taken players with an injury cloud, to a discrete training session in the morning or day before to make up their minds. Instead not only did the crowd and media get the message that Phil Davis was struggling to keep a steady pace, the Richmond strategists were clearly shown what they were up against. (Take a look at Tweet posted by Fox Footy journo Tom Morris during the Davis workout)
— Tom Morris (@tommorris32) September 28, 2019
(Davis pre-game fitness test listed below, video courtesy of Tom Morris)
It was astonishingly handled badly from a perception perspective and football operations angle. All in the media box gasped at the test, and I felt awful when I thought about the ramifications. It was like a “weak antelope being watched by a lion” moment aka line from the movie Casino. After seeing Tom Lynch run rampant against a solid Geelong defense last week and throw in Davis’s eventual opponent in Jack Riewoldt, you knew that the Giants skipper would have a punishing day and it turned out that way. 5 goals to Jack, three of them kicked before the first half. The club handled the issue poorly. Despite Phil being captain, you cannot take chances like they did on Saturday and think maybe this will work maybe it wont, because a lot of people will be affected. It sent the wrong tone, Davis should not have faced such a tough decision with minutes to go. Standby emergency, Lachie Keefe, whilst not as talented as Davis, was a strong, big bodied opponent, who played a very serviceable game against Collingwood the week before and was more importantly, fit. Lachie Whitfield was another who should not have played. After having appendicitis surgery days before, he clearly wasn’t at full speed.
Bobby Hill was another who should have remained in the team. Hill kicked 3 goals on debut against Richmond at the MCG earlier in the season and would not have been phased by the grand final occasion. The lesson from this was do not go into a major game with injured players and do not be overcome with reputation or standing because it means nothing if you cannot do your job properly and that is what happened on Saturday. It wasn’t the main reason why the Giants lost but it did play a significant factor towards it. Up forward Harry Himmleburg and Jeremy Finlayson had a day they’d rather forget. Himmelburg had a disappointing finals series but he wasn’t alone on Saturday where nothing seemed to work out properly. Toby Greene struggled throughout the day and was predictably booed by the Richmond fans.
The positives were obvious. It was a fantastic achievement by the Greater Sydney Giants organization to make a grand final, however they cannot rest on that laurel. They will benefit from the massive exposure the club gained during the week leading up to the game. Garnering new memberships is an obvious one, as to is the very important task of raising the AFL profile in New South Wales. Giants hats and scarfs could be spotted in the most remarkable of places. As I headed from Brighton Beach railway station to the MCG, I spotted a lone Giants fan donning an orange cap and scarf. There were plenty of Giants gear to be spotted at the Sydney and Melbourne airport terminals. The players will benefit from the grand final experience and they have the ability to learn from past games. I was scathing of them after last year’s defeat against Collingwood. They made up big league for the previous year’s disappointments by winning two compelling games and on the road and in very hostile environments. They have yet to master the Richmond version which is something to behold. If these boys want it badly enough and it burns in their stomach and they push harder in summer and work hard throughout the tough winter section, then maybe the words of Phil Davis of “we’ll be back” will come true.
It was a frustrating 2019 season and at times I thought the Giants were cooked especially after the Canberra snow game. Yet the Giants approached the finals period as a new season and kudos to all who brought in and got as deep as they did. It was just an awful way to end the season. The past few days with spring in full bloom, the memories of last Saturday are painful to re-visit. Getting back to another grand final is going to be tough, but as club chairman Tony Shepherd so brilliantly stated at the club’s post-match function in Melbourne on Saturday night, adversity is something the Giants have come to know and they have they dealt with it in the past. I’m so excited by the prospects of Bobby Hill. He should have played on Saturday and he’s a player that will play a role in help getting the team back to a grand final. Sam Taylor is another who plays beyond his years. With only 30 games under his belt he grew with every game, as did Brent Daniels who’s snap in the dying minutes of the Brisbane game will live in infamy. In the recruiting period Giants academy midfielder Tom Green looks to be an excellent choice. He’s rated in the top 10 AFL draftee candidates and has a superb footballing pedigree. His grandfather Mike Green played in 4 Richmond premierships. The Giants must pick this kid, who’s form in the U/18 competition has been stellar according to those in the know. So the future looks pretty bright. There is talk of Crows ruckman Sam Jacobs coming to the club. Jonathon Patton is heading off to Hawthorn and it’s almost certain Adam Tomlinson will be leaving with a possible stint at Melbourne.
The sombre Giants rooms post-game
It was obviously dead quiet in the Giants rooms post-game. Manfully all players watched the post-game presentation ceremony then, slowly they trudged off the MCG dejected. After coach Leon Cameron had spoken to the players in the sheds, they filed out to the loving awaiting arms of family members and friends. Many players openly wept as tears flowed easily as the bitter taste of defeat sank in. The great strength of this club is the families who can be seen inside the Giants sheds after every game. They provide vital support to the playing group and coaching staff. It has become something of a signature moment for families to be amongst the players so soon after a game, where usually at other clubs they are kept behind ropes and barriers. Not at the Giants, who choose to embrace the importance of family.
The Greater Western Sydney fans were tremendous
They were clearly outnumbered on Saturday, but they gave a great sight and there were more of the orange army then in previous Melbourne finals games. I had a chance to chat with Giants cheer squad members before they headed out onto the MCG turf to proudly unfurl and uphold the Giants run through banner. These folks do a tremendous job supporting their club. Many faces I have recognized over the past 8 years. They travel many thousands of miles and at great cost to be at these games. They did a great job on Saturday and I’m certain the orange army will continue to grow. Congrats to all of you, you were tremendous on Saturday.
Richmond were too good but some of their fans?
Despite the poor showing from the Giants, Richmond were simply too good. They were confident going into the game, they played players who were in form with Marlion Pickett being the prime example. Coach Damien Hardwick and his staff could have easily gone safe and picked previous flag winner in Kamdyn McIntosh but they stuck with Pickett who played a superb debut game. It was also a clear example of taking into the game a fit player despite the experience. Easy to say in hindsight, but the grand final game demands peak fitness and only the fortunate few clubs have gone unpunished taking injured players into the game.
Dustin Martin was superb and Jack Riewoldt took full of advantage of the Davis situation. Dion Prestia was another who played a great game. Throw in the Richmond fans who create such a massive roar when they score a goal, it is something to behold. Talk of dynasty amongst pundits is a bit premature. I’d wait until the third in the next few years if they do happen to achieve it. They are beatable, but you have to have all bases covered when you play this team and be super prepared strategically, physically and mentally. Richmond were deserved winners.
With regards to their fans, some of the scenes in Swan street Richmond were unwelcome. Fans could be seen standing on top of shop rooftops burning Toby Greene signs and Giants merchandise. Punt Road oval was also a nightmare as I walked past to get the train home. Drunken Tiger fans spewed out some of the foulest language and it was comprised of pure vitriol towards their vanquished opponents. I was glad to get home safely and thankfully I did not have any identifiable Giants colours on me or I would have copped some pretty nasty abuse that was being handed out. I’ve seen Hawthorn absolutely hammer Sydney in the 2014 grand final and saw nothing like the feral scenes I witnessed on Saturday night. The Richmond fans were an embarrassment to their club who need to learn there is an art to winning.
The “Cult of Jane Bunn”
Amidst all of the hustle and bustle around the sheds deep underneath the MCG, I managed to bump into Channel 7 Melbourne weather reporter Jane Bunn. Bunn has become something of a cult figure on Victorian TV with her unique, bubbly personality. She’s so popular there’s even been a ski field called the “Bunn Run” named after her in the Victorian Alps. Jane also won the coveted Queen of Moomba for 2019. So it was so cool to bump into my “idol”. One of the few things I enjoy about Melbourne is tuning in on the telly and watching Jane’s fabulous weather reports.
Ron Casey media centre at the MCG & thanks to the AFL media Dynamic Duo!
Was fortunate enough to sit in the Ron Casey media box for the game. I’d like to thank the “Dynamic Duo” of AFL media Nadine Rabah and Lilly Skacej for all of their help over the 2019 season and subsequent finals season. With a million to one things you guys must have to do, I am so thankful in how both of you found time to help us out. I really appreciated your acknowledgement of our work in covering the Greater Western Sydney Giants & Sydney / NSW football in general. Usually we get moved over to the spillover areas despite covering the Sydney teams all year round come finals time. We are they only Sydney based AFL writer that has been right there from the Giants start from 2012, so it was a really nice gesture to be sitting amongst other leading AFL journalists and we didn’t feel out of place in the slightest. Rubbing shoulders with Jon Ralph, Tom Morris, Mark Robinson and Lauren Wood. Interestingly enough when I sat with Tom Morris earlier this year at the SCG we spoke about media teachers and I discovered he had John Benson at Latrobe Uni when he was doing his media studies. John Benson was my teacher at Maribyrnong High School well before Tom’s education, and he taught media studies. John Benson was a massive influence on my interest in media. He was teaching us stuff at Maribyrnong that could be considered tertiary level. He also was a ruckman for the long gone Sunshine Crows in the historic Victorian Football Association. I’m glad I paid attention to Mr Benson, he was a great teacher in the Victorian Public School system and I am forever grateful of his teachings.