GWS apologists have a long season ahead

Geoff Lemon Columnist

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    When Greater Western Sydney went down by ten goals in round one, even the most charitable individual would surely have squinted quizzically at this being acclaimed a positive result for the AFL’s newest side.

    If losing to Sydney by 63 points was a kind of moral victory, then the next week’s loss to North Melbourne by 129 must have been a moral draw.

    Funny, because it looked like a good old-fashioned flogging of a side that is nowhere near AFL standard.

    As the baby of the league is licked clean by a doting Andrew Demetriou, it seems that many fans and writers are have been inflicted with a sudden softness of the heart, gathering around to coo at GWS’s big brown eyes and shaky limbs.

    When they went down to the Swans, the positive press was extraordinary, as we were exhorted to look for the positives in the Giants’ performance.

    After last weekend’s massacre, those enthusiasts should be reminded that even body bags have silver linings.

    Let’s face it. The kids in orange were beaten comfortably by a rusty Swans side that never left second gear, then torn apart by a mob of Kangaroos who are unlikely to see past the middle of the ladder.

    That neither team is among the scarier of this season’s competitors speaks volumes.

    Not to say the likely ladder-leaders will do worse to GWS than North did. Hawthorn, Collingwood or Geelong are more likely to save their energy, rest a few older or sore players, bring any injury returns back from the VFL, and give a chance to some youngsters. They should still ease to wins by 10 or 12 goals.

    But it’s the mid-table sides that will really take it to GWS, fired up by the chance to show some dominance, boost percentage, get momentum and avoid any chance of embarrassment. Watch for demolitions by Essendon, Richmond, or an improving Port Adelaide.

    That any side could get two matches against both GWS and Gold Coast is gravely unfair, though a couple have. A good move, though, was programming the two new sides against one another twice. Either one will inflate their season’s tally by eight points, or they’ll manage a win apiece.

    Realistically, these will be the Giants’ only chance at points. Aside from this, they will be shaken and cast aside each week until the whole inglorious affair is done.

    None of which is to say they shouldn’t be there. Any new side will struggle early in its life, and this is a process that all involved must grin and bear. But if sympathisers are going to be compulsively searching for positives each week, they’re liable for a good case of eyestrain.

    “North Melbourne’s class and experience has proved too much for Greater Western Sydney at Hobart’s Blundstone Arena”, said the AFL’s report, in an understatement on par with suggesting that K2 summiteers might need a coat.

    Much praise was given to GWS’s solid third quarter, when they scored six goals to North’s eight. Less of a mention was given to their tally of three behinds in the first quarter and one in the second, which led Twitter wags to speculate that perhaps the players had misunderstood Kevin Sheedy’s instructions to have the four points secured by half time.

    On a day in which North had 15 goalkickers, most attention went to the Giants’ Jeremy Cameron. Yes, kicking four goals in such a defeat is worthy. But to be honest, even I would have got a couple of touches at centre half forward as the gorging Kangaroos had a post-Christmas-buffet zone-out.

    So why all the sympathy?

    Adherents of other codes like to think it’s because all Aussie Rules fans are in Maoist thrall to the might of the AFL, endorsing its every decision in a monotone choir of thousands. They also believe that all football writers are in Andrew Demetriou’s personal employ.

    If the latter is the case, then my cheques have been going astray in the post. The former is like suggesting that every round-ball hoofer sings a morning hymn to the glory of the FFA, or that every league fan has a picture of David Gallop on his mantelpiece.

    There are so many reasons to look at the Giants, and the Suns for that matter, with contempt. The plastic nature of the invented clubs. The musclehead names lifted from American codes. Their horrible playing strips. Oh, and the colours? Guys, did you think Wests Tigers wouldn’t notice?

    If residents of the rugby states think that Melbourne fans would band together to support an invented team in Sydney, they badly misunderstand the nature of our ability to hate each other based on stripe and sash.

    Not to mention that watching Kevin Sheedy trying to coach an U-19 team in an elite comp is just embarrassing, like seeing your drunken uncle obscenely grinding his artificial hips to a Nicki Minaj song at your 16th birthday.

    I also feel at liberty to hate the Gold Coast for wasting the best player in the competition on five seasons of floggings. Were Gary Ablett still at Geelong, the Cats’ premiership odds would be substantially shortened, and his own abilities given the fuel to truly burn. Instead, mired in mediocrity, we’ll never see the Australian Little Master reach Tendulkar heights.

    And yet… and yet, there is a current of goodwill out there for the Greater Western Sydney Giants. Maybe it’s just sympathy for their stupidly long name. (Seriously, even the acronym has the word ‘double-you’ in it.) Maybe it’s the fact that they look like a Boost Juice cabinet. Maybe they’re the footballing equivalent of Bambi.

    But it’s there. Look, even the more parochial supporters would acknowledge that expansion is likely to be good for the game. Exposure, competitiveness, earning capacity will eventually increase.

    And we acknowledge that eventually the Giants will start to seem more like a real team. It happened to sides that wear purple and teal, and are in tight contest for the worst club songs in history.

    Most importantly, eventually the Giants will start to challenge as a football side, becoming a force to be reckoned with on the field. All of the other aspects of the club’s development will be boosted enormously when that comes along.

    But please, for now, don’t try to find a great glowing positive in every humiliation the Giants have. Like adolescence, this season will be a series of awkward moments, minor and major embarrassments, uncomfortable developments, and sticky patches, all in a series of painful steps that must be gone through in order to reach maturity, impress sports fans, and look good in orange.

    As we should with anyone’s awkward adolescence, let’s all draw as little attention to it as possible, pray that it’s soon over, then let the sufferers jam it into a dim distant recess of their memories as they try to move on with a better phase of their lives.

    Geoff Lemon
    Geoff Lemon

    Geoff Lemon is a writer, editor and broadcaster covering sport for The Roar, The Guardian and ABC, as well as writing on politics, literature and history for a range of outlets.

    He tweets from @GeoffLemonSport.