Why AFL’s Giants will land on the moon
“If I have seen a little further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” – Isaac Newton, 1676.
Kevin Sheedy already sees a long way into the future, and he likes what he sees.
He does not need to stand on the shoulders of his Giants, who in truth are Lilliputians at this point, to improve his vision.
He knows it would defy Newton’s law of gravity to expect instant success from the latest, greenest and rawest team to expand the ranks of the AFL.
He also knows that one day the league’s 18th team will fly high, defying gravity for a while, and when they eventually come back to earth they will be clutching the premiership trophy.
It happened for the Sydney Swans, so why shouldn’t it happen for the Greater Western Sydney (GWS) Giants?
When the Swans flew north for the winter of 1982 from Melbourne to Sydney to begin the AFL’s grand dream of becoming a truly national competition, the AFL was still the VFL and it comprised just 12 teams.
It took the Swans five years to make the finals and 15 years to reach a grand final.
Only in their 24th year did they grasp the holy grail of a premiership.
Along the way they had some near-death experiences that were tighter than Warwick Capper’s shorts.
But the point is that now they are an established side, with a dependable fan base and a solid record of making the finals in 13 of the past 16 years.
There are compelling reasons to believe the Giants should match, and even better, the Swans learning curve.
The biggest is that the AFL won’t, and can’t, let them fail.
The behemoth of Australian sport is prepared to pump in a couple of hundred million dollars over the next decade to make sure that the assault on enemy territory, the rugby league heartlands of western Sydney, produces lasting results.
The AFL is patient, well informed and prepared to work hard.
It is less concerned with the short term glitz than winning the hearts and minds over the long haul. It is here to stay.
It is going into the schools and building a relationship with the local communities that seems destined to pay off, given time.
Sheedy is much more than a coach who deserves the much misused accolade of “legend”.
He is a mentor, motivator, educator, father figure, promoter, marketer, spruiker, spiritual guide, figurehead and one-man brand rolled into one.
He is also a proselytiser who talks of “spreading the gospel” of AFL.
In setting the Giants on a trajectory he hopes will one day take them into orbit he must feel like John F.Kennedy did when he pledged to land an American on the moon before the 1960s were over.
What else would explain the GWS banner unfurled for Saturday night’s debut against the Swans?
It read: “One small step for the Giants, one giant leap for AFL.”
Sheedy could have played a rocket-powered Neil Armstrong at full forward, for all the difference it would have made to the result.
Realistically, the Giants were never going to win.
But they did better, a whole lot better, than most people expected.
They were competitive for the first half and “won” the final quarter by a point.
Only in the third term did the Swans get away from them.
The winning margin of 63 points was much less than the bookies’ expectations of 90-plus and in respectable territory compared with the 119-point thrashing suffered by the league’s 17th team, the Gold Coast Suns, on debut last year against Carlton.
“The thing we found out tonight is that this team’s got a bit of spirit,” said Sheedy.
“Belief in yourself is one of the most important skills to have in life, especially in the pretty tough arena of AFL, and I think they handled that aspect well.”
The Giants playing list is only going to get better with more battle-hardening.
No fewer than 17 of the 22 players facing the Swans were debutants; 14 are teenagers and the average age is a tick over 20.
The Giants are also much better organised behind the scenes than the trail-blazing Swans of 30 years ago.
As difficult as it is to believe at this distance, some of those Swans actually remained resident in Melbourne and commuted to training.
Sheedy knows his task is not just to launch a team that will eventually win matches and flags, but to launch a code that will eventually win over a strategic chunk of Australia’s sporting market, the two million people of socially diverse western Sydney.
In taking on a task of JFK dimensions, he sounds like the late US president’s brother Bobby.
“There are those who look at things the way they are and ask why,” Robert Kennedy once said. “I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”
The Sheedy version is this: “People look at the diversity of greater western Sydney and say it’s why our game can’t succeed. I look at it and say it’s exactly why we can.”
Add statesman to his job description.© AAP 2014