It was always going to become tough going in Western Sydney.
New South Wales hasn’t so far developed the volume of junior talent of other states, so while other teams are improving with each draft, GWS treads water. Worse, they’ve found it hard to hold onto some of their biggest interstate players who helped them be competitive early on, like Courtney Gum, Emma Swanson, Maddy Collier and Christina Bernardi.
Finally, captain Amanda Farrugia just announced a surprise retirement, and this year’s best NSW junior, Breanna Tarrant, nominated for the Victorian draft and was selected by the Demons.
If the Giants are to have any chance at all in 2020, their best player needs to step up. That player is Alyce Parker, just 19 years old and about to enter her second AFLW season. Her first season was a strong debut, but the Giants had other big-name midfielders, like Alicia Eva, Jess Dal Pos and Emma Swanson, and perhaps Parker felt that she wasn’t quite ready to shoulder them out of the way to charge for the ball herself.
Parker is a Maddy Prespakis-level player – she’s not quite as good with the ball, but she’s stronger, more athletic and physically intimidating beyond most AFLW midfielders. If she’s prepared to take that next step and carry her team forward, the Giants midfield will remain formidable despite the loss of Swanson and Gum, as Eva and Dal Pos are quality players too, if not on Parker’s level. The thing is now that Parker just has to believe it.
The Giants forward line has two huge Irish attributes in Cora Staunton and Yvonne Bonner, with Bonner probably eclipsing her better-known countrywoman in her debut season, combining height, speed and aggression. Staunton is coming back from a very nasty broken leg, but at her best she is an imposing, powerful runner with a huge kick, while Rebecca Beeson and Jacinda Barclay can also play.
Between Pepa Randall, Tanya Hetherington, Elle Bennets and others the Giants have the same strong defence they had last season and have added the tall and agile Jess Allen – sister of excellent Crows defender Sarah – from Adelaide, but it’s moving the ball forward that remains their problem.
I think coach Alan McConnell wanted to play a more aggressive style but lacks the footspeed in his team to make it happen, and the Giants ended up scoring only 29 points per game last season. To be even vaguely competitive this season he’s going to need to get that up to 35 at least, and probably more.
But achieving that with this relatively slow line-up is going to be hard. Staunton and Bonner can do damage once their teammates get the ball up forward, but last year they were practically carrying the Giants’ offensive output. One gets the feeling it could be that way this season too.
The Giants desperately need more Alyce Parkers coming through the draft. A glance at the AFLW Academy players eligible for the draft next year and currently training with GWS reveals under-18 standouts like Tarni Evans, Abby Favell, Jayde Hamilton and Emily Pease, so perhaps that drought is ending. But it had better end fast, because the Swans will be wanting to enter the competition in a few years, and New South Wales currently have barely enough players for one team, let alone two.