There are passages in every Giants game where football’s end of days appears to be ahead of schedule.
The clearest passage in Saturday night’s demolition of North Melbourne – an impressively lazy, almost uninterested demolition – came in the first quarter.
Devon Smith stole a handball intended for Daniel Wells, waltzed inside 50, calmly dummied Nick Dal Santo, and then fed a perfect handball to Callan Ward’s advantage, who – duly, as though compelled by the football gods to finish such sumptuous build-up play – slotted the goal on his opposite foot with conviction.
It was a special, bordering on surreal level of effortless wizardry from Smith, of which the two men he left in his wake – smooth operators Wells and Dal Santo – would have been proud.
It’s moments like this, moments where Greater Western Sydney combine pace, polish, incision and force like nobody else in the competition can, where you start to think that football’s apocalypse might already be upon us.
On Saturday night GWS had 15 players take the field with under 100 games experience, more than twice as many as North Melbourne. But it was the Giants who looked like the composed, veteran team – never really exploding as they’re prone to, aside from a stretch in the third quarter, but always in firm control of a dour arm-wrestle.
In a lot of ways it was an unimpressive victory, in the sense that GWS didn’t play all that impressively. But it was a win that might say almost as much as when they blew the doors off of Hawthorn and Sydney earlier in the year.
The Giants played on the road against a solid, more experienced team coming off an emotionally charged week, never really hit top gear and still came out on top in a six-goal laugher.
After the shock loss at home to Collingwood, the needlessly difficult narrow win over the Gold Coast, and losing to West Coast with the double chance on the line three weeks ago, the easy narrative developed that GWS – those young guns whose trigger fingers were tiring – were fading at the finish line.
But the Giants enter September in as good form as anyone. They’ve won six of their past seven and nine of their past 11. GWS have the fittest list of all the finalists and, remarkably, are two wins in their home state from a grand final appearance.
Jonathon Patton has chosen a frightening time to start realising his potential, having kicked bags of six and five goals in the past fortnight after never kicking more than three in his previous 51 games.(Click to Tweet)
Patton has always apppeared a superhero, a towering colossus who looks more like he should be thwarting the Joker than competing in marking contests with Michael Firrito. For so long his superhero act has only been an aesthetic, but in the past two rounds it’s become a football reality.
Lachie Whitfield saga aside, GWS were the big winners of the past week, with Adelaide’s meltdown opening the door to the double chance. Politics have conspired to help them too, with their qualifying final – disgracefully – to be played at ANZ Stadium, a setting that offers no definitive advantage to the minor premier.
I’ve been to ANZ Stadium twice – for the 2012 AFL preliminary final and a Kendrick Lamar concert. It only made sense for the latter.
The Giants will hold no fear of their bigger, more decorated in-state brothers. They beat Sydney by seven goals in their last meeting, and their dynamism and height in the forward line will give the Swans’ defence headaches, and their blistering leg speed in the midfield will give their middle men leg cramps.
GWS are already the bookmakers’ premiership favourites for 2017 but they’re good enough to make the future now. They have A-grade talent in all three phases of the ground, and the competition’s most potent mixture of speed, skill and physical force. Even in 2016, their ceiling is higher than anyone else’s.
Inexperience is the caveat, as it has to be, and it makes their basement lower than the other contenders. Teams usually have to take their lumps, to breathe in some September pain before they can go all the way. The Giants haven’t played many close games this year and that could burn them in finals. The collapse against West Coast was a debacle – you had to kill that ball Dylan Shiel – and will surely loom on their minds in a close game.
‘A lack of experience’ is the old guard’s favourite reason for doubting a contender, and it’s one of their few, best points. There’s no real precedent for the Giants winning the flag this year, and that’s why Sydney, Geelong and maybe – although their case grows weaker by the day – Hawthorn are better bets.
But there’s no real precedent for a season as even as this one either, and if the Giants grow up fast we could be looking at Apocalypse Now, and apocalypse for a while.