So here it is again. Sydney Derby IV, or the latest version of – as Giants’ coach Kevin Sheedy prefers to call it – the Battle of the Bridge.
Sydney’s Swans versus the Greater Western Sydney (although not as west as they once were) Giants.
All Sydney football fans can hope for, is that this is just the teething infancy of what will one day be the annual grudge match of the city. Our Carlton-Collingwood, our Adelaide Showdown, the eastern variety of the Western derby.
But right now for those fans, despite concerted efforts from both clubs to make it more, it’s sadly just another match with only four competition points – not bragging rights – at stake, and we all know where those points will be headed, east not west, on Sunday afternoon.
It is a hard sell for the marketing departments at both clubs. One team on the bottom of the ladder, winless, one near the top and looking to line up all their ducks in place before the finals begin.
There has been the unusual sight of television ads in Sydney this week, there has been some coverage in the media, but not the sort of publicity you would get with a ‘real’ rivalry.
And that’s hardly surprising. They are competing for air time and column space with the Ashes, rugby league’s upcoming State of Origin decider, the departure of one and appointment of another Wallabies’ coach, Manchester United are about to hit town, and the British Open golf starts next week.
A potentially lop-sided AFL game between two clubs that haven’t built up that intense a rivalry and hatred for each other isn’t going to attract too much attention in this town at the moment.
Port and the Crows had that instant rivalry when the Power entered the competition in 1997. They even won four games apiece in their first eight clashes. In Perth, when the Dockers arrived, the Eagles dominated – not unlike the Swans right now – winning the first nine clashes during Freo’s first five seasons, but there was a rivalry there, and Perth is a footy town.
Unfortunately, while there is definitely a bit of dislike of each other behind closed doors, not surprisingly it hasn’t translated to the field.
In the first three clashes, the Swans have solely been about getting the four points and getting back home from ANZ Stadium, while the Giants have battled hard, but are still a step off the pace of their Sydney rivals. So, to most the ‘rivalry’ looks like it only exists for the sake of PR.
I know that most good rivalries take time, but the sport in Sydney, or more specifically the Giants, really could use it to blossom right now.
After the initial intrigue with the Giants in their debut season, and naturally the interest in Israel Folau, this year it appears that they haven’t attracted anywhere near the coverage they did in 2012.
What the rivalry badly needs is a dramatic upset win.
When it comes, it will be the best thing to happen to the Giants and be a real boost for the game.
People talk about Sydney being all about loving and supporting winners. You don’t have to win every week, but you have win sometimes, and you have to win the ones that mean something.
A derby – or Bridge Battle – should be the most important game outside of finals. When that is the case for the fans of both clubs, and for AFL in Sydney, then, the Giants will have really arrived.
The sooner the better, because lop-sided ‘derbies’ barely make even Swans’ fans smile.