COWLEY: The AFL won’t let the GWS Giants fail

Michael Cowley Columnist

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    Throughout more than a decade of covering AFL for the Sydney Morning Herald, I was frequently asked questions about the game, but none as regularly as the one which – despite my departure from the newspaper – has continued to follow me.

    It’s a simple, yet popular query, posed by both fans and foes of the game: “Will GWS make it?”

    There are a few versions: Will GWS survive? Is GWS a waste of time? Will GWS ever be successful?

    But the question about the future of the AFL’s newest club is effectively the same.

    And despite common sense arguing with me, my answer over the years since the Giants were little more than a glint in the eye of AFL chief executive, Andrew Demetriou, has been the same.

    Yes, they will make it/survive/be successful, because the AFL won’t have it any other way.

    As the club makes its way through it’s second season, I stand by that assessment, although I know other like-minded souls in the sport have wavered in recent times.

    The facts are these.

    Firstly, it’s not about winning a war of the codes in Western Sydney. It never was, but it was good publicity.

    Rugby league will always be the premier sport out west, but as the Wanderers showed this year in the A-League, there is abundant room for other codes to succeed and nurture support for their own games.

    GWS have almost 12,000 members, nearly 2,000 more than they managed in their opening season. Their merchandise sells well, and I know of many AFL fans west of Homebush who would love to have their own team to follow.

    But when will they follow?

    Having seen it all before, the reality is Sydney does like winners, and it’s still going to be some time before the Giants are winners.

    I have no doubt there are AFL fans in western Sydney who follow the Swans, and could jump to the Giants at some point.

    But tell me, would you switch from supporting a team which is always in the finals, to one unlikely to be there for some time? Well, maybe, but not just yet anyway.

    Some initial projections with the talent they would be able to stockpile from the drafts, were the club would be pushing for a flag in five years. We’re not hearing those same suggestions at the moment.

    I have no doubt they will snatch a win or two in 2013, just where and when it will come I’m not so sure. The two teams they beat last season – Gold Coast and Port Adelaide – have both taken steps up in 2013, and both have already beaten the Giants.

    Melbourne was tagged a potential winning game, and it looked promising for three quarters, only to end in disappointment. But they will catch someone off guard.

    A high-flying Essendon, in Melbourne, this week – with Giants’ captain Phil Davis and forward Setanta O’hAilpin to miss through injury – could potentially be ugly, and from then on you wouldn’t be backing GWS in too many of the upcoming matches until perhaps Round 19 at home against Melbourne.

    Winning seasons at this time seem a long, long way away.

    It was pleasing to see chief executive David Matthews recently quoted saying they would try and sign two or three mature-aged recruits for 2014.

    They badly need them. But, while money talks, it will still be interesting to see which quality mature players, answer in the affirmative.

    While their membership base is solid across Sydney and Canberra, translating that to decent crowds will continue to be a challenge for the Giants until they can consistently be competitive enough to be a chance in most games.

    And because the 12,000 members are split across Sydney and Canberra (and elsewhere), it appears Canberra members go to Canberra games, and Sydney members to Sydney games, and very few both.

    The 6,832 who turned up in Canberra last weekend for the loss to the Gold Coast – the smallest AFL crowd at the venue since games began being played there in 1998 – was not a promising sign for the season, nor a good look for the club and game.

    The 11,092 for the St Kilda game two weeks earlier at the same venue was however encouraging.

    How many arrive for their first game at Skoda in two weeks against Adelaide will be interesting.

    But anyway, back to point, the question which follows me.

    Yes, I still think they will make it. Yes it is still going to take time. Yes, it’s going to be a bit longer than many first thought, and yes, eventually, they will have a strong fan base in Sydney who will come to the games and watch them win.

    Those are the easy answers.

    The hard question to answer is how rough will the ride be for players, officials and fans before they do actually make it.

    The Roar welcomes Michael Cowley as an expert writer on the site. Michael spent 30 years working with the Sydney Morning Herald, covering a variety of sports and events including Olympics, World Championships and football grand finals. He covered AFL for more than a decade.

    Michael Cowley
    Michael Cowley

    Michael Cowley spent more than 20 years covering sport for the Sydney Morning Herald, including 12 seasons as the paper's AFL writer. During that time he reported on the awful Swans of the 1990s, and then the successful teams of the past decade, including covering their premiership seasons of 2005 and 2012. You can find him on Twitter: @mick_cowley

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