Can GWS Recover From Their Giant Grand Final Nightmare?

Though uncomfortable for AFL ‘traditionalists’, at some point over the last few seasons the Greater Western Sydney Giants became a living, breathing football club.

While those same fans were busy shaking their fists at the league - and the role concessions played in their rapid rise - the Giants were busy winning games of football.

And then winning Finals. 

And then, qualifying for a maiden Grand Final appearance.

And, while they wilted rather dramatically on football's biggest stage - trounced to the tune of 87 points by a rampant Richmond Football Club - the Giants at least sent a major warning in 2019 that the notion of the premiership cup heading down Parramatta Road is becoming very real.

Unfortunately for the Giants, getting blown to pieces in that fashion, and on that stage, has been a terrible omen for football clubs over the last few decades.  

Of the last 15 teams to have been smashed by at least 40 points on Grand Final day, only two returned to contest the Grand Final the following year, and only the West Coast Eagles in 1992 were able to go one step further and win the flag.

Of the last ten clubs to have suffered that kind of Grand Final beat down (dating back to 1995), all ten failed to win a single game the following September, with five actually missing the Finals altogether.

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The seriousness of those scars makes for one of the most pressing questions for the Giants ahead of the 2020 season, however, if there’s a club well positioned to surf against the waves of contemporary history, it’s GWS.

Not only have the Giants become a more seasoned outfit, with a list now ranked in the league's top third from both an age and experience profile, but this is a club who has routinely held their own against the competition's best, with that form in recent seasons translating into September progress as well.

While succumbing so spectacularly to the Tigers on the MCG was an obvious outlier, the Giants had won four of their previous five Finals, with their star-studded midfield often leading the way.

And, it is within that midfield group where so much hope and so many resources have been invested in 2020 and beyond, with all of Josh Kelly, Tim Taranto, Stephen Coniglio, Lachie Whitfield and Jacob Hopper locked away for at least the next two seasons, while the Giants will this year also be able to call upon veteran Callan Ward who missed the bulk of 2019 after tearing his ACL in Round 4.

This is a midfield that is both extremely talented, and, just as importantly, diversified both physically and from a skill-set perspective.

Last year they led the AFL in clearances, generating 41.9 per game, while their 29.6 stoppage clearances also led the league, thanks in large part to the physicality provided by Shane Mumford, and, which will only be enhanced by the arrival of Sam Jacobs.

Where the Giants could do with a boost, however, is in support regarding goal-scoring avenues around Jeremy Cameron.

While indeed, Cameron’s eight-season, 408 goal career tally was finally rewarded with a Coleman Medal in 2019, as well as a second All-Australian gong, he has, for the most part, operated on an island during his career with the Giants, with their main man accounting for 22.5% of all Giants' shots on goal in 2019.

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While the club would no doubt be delirious with Cameron’s emergence as one of the game’s most outstanding forwards, they’d be equally alarmed they’re yet to secure his services beyond this season, while desperately needing their supporting forwards to find a greater level of consistency.

To be fair, both Jeremy Finlayson and Harrison Himmelberg made massive strides in 2019, with Finlayson's transition to the forward line resulting in a 44-goal return, while Himmelberg also slotted 38 majors, with the 2015 first-round pick looking increasingly comfortable at AFL level.

With that said, both struggled as the season wore on and when facing more sophisticated defences, with the pair combining for just 5 goals over the Giants' final three Finals, with Finlayson gaining just a single possession on Grand Final day.

Both are, however, immensely talented, and at under 25 years of age, promise to give the Giants plenty of scoring opportunity over the coming years. If they can continue to develop in concert with Cameron, and, in addition to the preciously talented, though enigmatic, Toby Greene, the Giants forward line has the potential to start completely overwhelming teams.

Another area the Giants must reconcile - along with Jeremy Cameron’s contract status - is sorting out an extension for coach, Leon Cameron, who the club is also yet to come to terms with beyond 2020.

Pressure had been mounting on Cameron in the first half of last season, owing to the sheer depth of talent at his disposal and the fact the Giants had yet to make a genuine September imprint. However, Cameron unquestionably shone in the second half of 2019, ultimately producing a coaching masterclass as the Giants shocked Collingwood in the Preliminary Final, and without the services of Whitfield, Coniglio and Greene to boot.

If the Giants can lock in both of their Camerons, their ability to move on from the torment of their Tigers mauling, and onto the task of accumulating AFL silverware will become a lot easier.

While the memory of last September will forever be a part of their young history, this club has come too far and created too strong an environment to let one game define them.

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James Rosewarne

James is a writer and Managing Editor at Stats Insider. He likes fiction and music. He is a stingray attack survivor. He lives in Wollongong.

Email- james@thehypometer.com for story ideas or opportunities.

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