The Sleepy Giants Are Stumbling To The End Of A Lost Season

If this was the loss that doomed the Giants season, it was fitting that it ended with a Lachie Whitfield shank. 

The Giants lost the Melbourne game a few times. The Demons got the jump against a sleepy opponent, and - with a three-goal lead after just 15 minutes - complete disaster was on the cards. But nothing about this GWS season has had an exclamation mark. The Giants clawed back, drifted away again, seemed to take control, and then let it all slip.

They had one last chance with 30 seconds left, with Whitfield finding the ball on the wing. His kick would be GWS's final forward attack, and the best kick in the competition sprayed it off the side of his boot. 

It was an apt summary of the Giants' season.

With everything on the line, the Giants played with some desperation, but mostly they just played with fatigue. 

It's been a long, strange, shortened season. For GWS, it's probably felt longer and more winding than it has for most, spending the year chasing down an 89-point deficit from last Grand Final day. 

The Giants looked lost and disoriented against Melbourne. Zac Williams inexplicably handballed to 50-50 contests. When Lachie Keeffe wasn't being tackled unaware in the corridor, he was stabbing 10-metre passes that fell metres short of the target. 

Too often, the Demons moved the ball without resistance. Christian Salem's vital goal to keep touch at the end of the third quarter came after Melbourne casually chipped the ball untouched from their last line of defence, into attack. Giants players missed crucial tackles that led to Melbourne goals. 

At the death, Jack Viney was allowed to run half the length of the field and provide overlap with no Giant anywhere near him.

In the end, the Giants had no one to blame but themselves, and were duly subjected to Alex Neal-Bullen's golf-swing celebration.

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Back in 2016, when this GWS era of contention began – an era that was supposed to ravage the AFL and leave no earth left for plants to grow – everything looked to come easily for the Giants. They played avalanche football, with vicious passages of rapid ball movement, exploding from stoppages with unrelenting pace and skill. In 2016, they were second in the league for scoring and finished the year with 16 wins and a percentage of 143.

Slowly, though, everything became more of a grind. The league-wide evisceration never came. The champagne football ceased and the struggle commenced – they were supposed to be the Kevin Durant-Golden State Warriors and ended up the Paul George-Indiana Pacers. The Giants were still excellent, but they stopped running over teams, and instead had to wear them down, contest after contest. 

A lot of the names are the same, but there is very little left of 2016 in this team. 

After leading the league in inside-50s in 2016, the Giants rank 16th this season, behind teams like Essendon, North Melbourne and Sydney. After ranking 2nd, 1st, 3rd and 2nd the previous four years in clearance differential, this year the Giants rank 13th. Without the same dominance around the ball, the Giants haven't been able to get the ball forward, with little creativity or structure to their ball movement. 

GWS has proved their toughness over the journey. Their run to the Grand Final last year was gallant. Remarkable. But, too often, they still look clueless when the game slows down outside of the contest, like a group of high school jocks thrown into a physics exam. 

The Giants will need a number of unlikely results to go their way to extend their season beyond the weekend, which is why the Stats Insider Futures Model gives them just a 7.6% chance of playing AFL Finals in 2020. Even if the miracle breaks for them, there’s little to suggest they can make much noise, beyond the glamorous names still on the team sheet. That sheet has been diminished, though, with the absences of Phil Davis, Sam Taylor, Callan Ward and Stephen Coniglio.

Davis and Taylor playing just 14 games between them this season has been devastating – along with Nick Haynes, the courage and aerial dominance of these three were the heart of the Giants last season. Ward never looked like himself this year and continued to deal with injuries. The bizarre and sudden axing of an out of form Coniglio will likely ripple into the offseason.

Coniglio is not alone in his under-performance. Jeremy Cameron has been lost all year, with just 79 score involvements, a year after having 186. Toby Greene has fallen off after a magnificent start. Tim Taranto has not taken the next step that was hoped for.

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Unless the disaster of a season is loud and unbearable – like it has been for North Melbourne, Hawthorn and Essendon – this year will be easier than most for teams to rationalise away.  

It might not be delusional if the Giants believe that missing finals this year is just a blip. Josh Kelly, Tim Taranto, Toby Greene, Zac Williams, Phil Davis, Sam Taylorand Callan Ward have all missed 4+ games. GWS has Richmond, Geelong and Collingwood as scalps this year, and they played Brisbane, Port Adelaideand West Coast close. They’ve only lost one game all year by more than 24 points – the disastrous loss to Sydney that started the rot.

GWS will be back next year with all their big neon light names. The gap in talent between them and the best of the competition will be small, if it exists at all. The talent has never been the issue, though – it’s been the lack of ideas to maximise all the gifts this team has. 

This season ending more as a tired, prolonged sigh for the Giants instead of as a foundation-shaking catastrophe may hurt them in the end. 

To be the team in 2021 they were supposed to be the past four years they will need to be blessed with better health, but most of all, armed with much better ideas.

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Jay Croucher

Based in Denver, Colorado, Jay splits time between worshiping Nikola Jokic and waking up at 3am to hazily watch AFL games. He has been writing about AFL, NBA and other US sports since 2014, and has suckered himself into thinking Port Adelaide was the real deal each year since.

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