As most of Greater Western Sydney’s squad steel themselves for their debut AFL seasons, coach Kevin Sheedy is busy preparing for his 41st year in the league.
With 251 AFL/VFL games played and 634 coached, he’s well-versed in challenges.
So does the enormity of this year compare to anything that has come before?
“You look back and say well probably `92-93 will be the one period, when we actually had a lot of players of youth coming into that `93 grand final,” Sheedy says, thinking back to a young Essendon premiership team including the likes of Dustin Fletcher, James Hird, Ricky Olarenshaw, Mark Mercuri and Joe Misiti.
“They were very inexperienced guys.
“They were surrounded by some experienced guys – but our centre line was very inexperienced.”
He’s not about to draw too many parallels at this early stage though, quickly pointing out most of the GWS squad will have only had one pre-season to draw on.
While Sheedy hopes his young charges can one day reach the heights of the Baby Bombers, the 64-year-old won’t see it happen this year.
GWS will start the season as underdogs in a way never seen before.
With a long-term view of success and a focus on youth, GWS aren’t expected to do much in 2012. Many pundits are confident they won’t win a game.
Sheedy, honest and freewheeling in a style now unsighted amongst his counterparts, is uncharacteristically guarded about the side’s 2012 prospects – starting with a stand-alone clash with Sydney.
“Some of the press guys … are pre-empting things where we’re not quite sure what will happen,” he said.
“So I’ve got to be very judgmental about what I talk about. At the moment we’re playing the Swans and you’ve got bookmakers offering 99 points (start).
“Wow! That means that we’re going to get beaten by 15 or 16 goals in the first game.
“We’ll just take the season as it comes.
“It’s hard to say now what you could be doing in three months’ time.”
For the Giants, it’s not so much about three months but three years down the track.
But like selling climate change solutions in a 24-hour news cycle, it won’t always be easy marketing the potential of an untried squad as GWS attempt to stake their turf in rugby league heartland.
“It’s about the patience of bringing on young players. I hope the Giants’ fans give these kids a chance,” said Sheedy.
“Fitness-wise it takes quite a long time for a young person leaving Year 12 to build an engine to play AFL.
“And we’re still making judgments on them – it’ll take all year to find out how good these kids will or will not be.”
Remarkably, some of the greatest expectations are of Israel Folau, a foreigner to the game until 2010.
Folau, then aged 21 and one of the most dominant rugby league players in the world, was paid a poultice by the AFL to join the Giants.
Plenty have already derided his code-hopping venture, and it’s likely he’ll cop more first-season scrutiny than Tom Scully or any other No.1 draft pick.
Sheedy knows not to expect miracles from the club’s highest profile recruit.
“He’s come a long way in the last period, and all our players will need these games – not just Izzy,” said Sheedy.
“We’re exploring all avenues for him to develop and keep improving.”
Development and improvement. Many would call the Giants’ upcoming season a success if every player under the age of 22 – which includes co-captains Callan Ward and Phil Davis – is able to tick those two boxes.
But an old hand like Sheedy knows it’s not that simple.
“I think the most important thing is that you completely let everyone know that you’re going to be a very, very competitive team.”
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY
Coach: Kevin Sheedy
Captains: Luke Power, Phil Davis, Callan Ward
Last year: Debut season
Key five: Tom Scully, Callan Ward, Phil Davis, Rhys Palmer, Israel Folau.
One to watch: Israel Folau – unlike fellow code-hopper Karmichael Hunt, who at least played some Australian Rules football as a child, Folau’s status as a newcomer to the sport makes him exactly what the Giants are – a very expensive experiment that will take a lot of time to pay off, if it does at all. There is no doubting his athletic ability. But Folau’s limited knowledge of the finer points of the game meant he struggled when trialled in defence. A move forward, where he can play with less responsibility and relying more on athleticism and instinct has helped, but it will not be so easy at the top level.
Ins: First year.
Outs: First year.
B: Tomas Bugg, Tim Mohr, Chad Cornes
HB: Luke Power, Phil Davis, Dom Tyson
C: Rhys Palmer, Callan Ward, Adam Treloar
HF: Curtly Hampton, Jon Patton, Stephen Coniglio
F: Setanta O’hAilpin, Israel Folau, Tim Golds
R: Dean Brogan, Steve Clifton, Tom Scully
I: James McDonald, Jeremy Cameron, Dylan Shiel, Jonathan Giles
Predicted finish: 18th
To win the flag: $1001
To make the top eight: $51