Four years of planning comes to fruition tonight when the AFL’s newest club, GWS Giants, debuts in a standalone game against cross-town rivals the Sydney Swans to open the AFL 2012 season. Join us at 7.20pm AEST as we follow Australian sporting history in the making with live scores and commentary.
In reality, the vision for a second AFL team in Sydney goes back a long way.
Even in the years when the Swans were struggling to make a mark in Australia’s largest city, the AFL understood that the future prosperity of the game depended on a larger presence, and that inevitably meant a minimum of two teams.
It’s an audacious move by the AFL, one fraught with risk, but one that could equally help change the face of the game over the next 50 years.
When the AFL plans something, it’s thinking decades ahead.
But forget the future, this is the here and now, and for all the hype, the publicity, the planning, the controversy, it’s time for the 18th club to send 22 blokes out onto the paddock.
In over your head, a tough initiation, boys against men, thrown in the deep end: think of any sporting cliché that comes to mind, and it will not be exaggerating what the GWS boys are facing tonight.
And they are boys. Seventeen of them will be debuting in the AFL tonight, as many as debuted in 1991 in the Crows’ first ever game.
But there are massive differences between this Giants outfit and that Crows team, who were able to enter the competition with the best of the SANFL in what was almost a State of Origin team.
The Giants go into the game tonight with a long list of teenagers, up against one of the hardest teams in the AFL.
Some of these teenagers have impressed in the pre-season with their willingness to put their head over the ball. Watch out tonight for youngsters such as Dylan Shiel, Devon Smith and Stephen Coniglio.
Mid-sized forwards such as Jeremy Cameron and Curtly Hampton have shown a bit of class as well.
Phil Davis might be able to break even with Swans power forward Sam Reid, and Callan Ward might be able to do the same against Kieren Jack (both are Giants co-captains).
Even Coniglio could match it with Andrejs Everitt this early in his career, but from there, it falls away very rapidly for the Giants.
Across the lines, it’s teenagers up against hardened, experienced professionals, and despite the odd man-on-man win to the Giants, one can see the Swans getting away to an early lead and building on that as the game progresses.
By the time we make it to half time, a large chunk of the young Giants will be feeling battered and bruised: they’ll be wanting to see it through until the end, but their legs may struggle to carry them.
Sheeds has Tim Mohr on Adam Goodes, which looks like a match with only one possible victor. But who can play on Goodes? Could an ageing Chad Cornes stay with him?
To rub salt into the wounds, Harry Cunningham of Wagga, from inside the GWS zone but rejected by them, will make his debut for the Swans.
Unfortunately for the Giants, experienced players such as Luke Power, Dean Brogan, Setanta o’hAilpin and Tom Scully are out injured, while number one draft pick Jonathon Patton is getting over pre-season surgery.
Had they had all these players, the Giants would have stood a chance of getting within 10 goals of the Swans. Without them, well, we’re looking at a scoreline not to dissimilar to what the Suns endured in their first game last season.
It is an historic moment tonight, but Giants fans will need to ignore the scoreboard. Watch out for the glimmer of hope some of these teenagers will provide, and think longer term.
A giant step for the AFL, but tonight, it will be a matter of baby steps, cramps, bruised bodies and a massive reality check for the young Giants.
It’s an historic night for the AFL in Sydney. Will there be any surprises – of any magnitude? AFL 2012 kicks off tonight at 7.20pm AEDT this evening and we’ll have all the action from the first bounce. If you’re watching, give us your thoughts in the space below.