The 2019 season was a momentous one for the GWS Giants, with the club qualifying for their first Grand Final after eight seasons in the AFL. While the last three hours of the season couldn’t have gone any worse, to focus entirely on this one match would be a disservice to a tremendous year of overcoming adversity by the men for the west of Sydney. This refusal to accept their fate was on full show in their first three finals with the Giants overcoming the red hot Bulldogs at Homebush before prevailing in two one kick thrillers away from home.
What went right?
Unlike their fellow expansion club to the north, the Giants have had much better success in retaining the players they desperately want to keep and this continued in 2019 with the retention of Coniglio, Kelly and Haynes. In doing so, it should ensure they are still there when the whips are cracking late in 2020.
In his third year in the harbour city since being delisted by Fremantle, Matt de Boer produced arguably his best season at AFL level. Used as a run with player by coach Leon Cameron, the 29-year-old was outstanding week in and week out shutting down some of the best players in the competition.
September 5th to September 27th might well be the greatest period in the short history of the club. The three finals victories recorded in this time will live long in the memories of the club’s fan base. As will the support and good will sent the Giants way in Grand Final week, while the #bigbigsound might have been mostly in fun it also was the moment that the AFL’s newest team were finally considered a true club by the rest of the competition.
While they might now have the ignominious record of the lowest Grand Final score in 59-years, the Giants forward line was one of the most potent in the AFL when firing. With the deadly triumvirate of Jeremy Cameron, Jeremy Finlayson and Harry Himmelberg prowling the forward fifty the Giants were a constant headache for opposition coaches. Cameron would ultimately pinch the Coleman in a last round explosion and kick 76 goals for the year while Finlayson (44) and Himmelberg (38) also had outstanding seasons.
What went wrong?
Injuries caused the Giants no end of grief throughout the 2019 season and they reared their ugly head again in the lead up to the club’s biggest ever game. With the team just one win away from a maiden premiership, the GWS Selection Panel were left with the invidious position of picking or leaving out three of the clubs most important players. Unfortunately the gamble in selecting Davis, Whitfield and de Boer backfired terribly on a day to forget for the club.
That they were required to run such a dangerous gauntlet in September owed itself in large part to the team losing big games when it mattered during the home and away season. This was no more apparent than in Rounds 21 and 22. After having recorded an impressive three game winning streak over Collingwood, Port Adelaide and Sydney, they stumbled badly against Hawthorn and Western Bulldogs to surrender all hopes of a top four finish.
The obvious, and probably correct answer, to this question is the Preliminary Final but we are going to nominate the away win over Geelong in Round Four. Squaring off against the undefeated competition leaders at Simmonds Stadium, the Giants were given little chance of recording their first away victory over the Cats. What little hope they were given would have evaporated when they went to the sheds at half time 21-points down.
This Giants team don’t fold that easily though and produced a magnificent second half despite losing co-captain Callan Ward to season ending knee injury. With Whitfield, Coniglio and Hopper starring, the Giants controlled the ball and territory, going inside forward 50 13 more times than their opponents to secure a memorable four point victory.
Stand out performer
Given the success the team experienced in 2019, it is no surprise that this is a difficult decision. Jeremy Cameron earned All-Australian Honours and the Coleman Medal for his efforts during the season, while Stephen Coniglio won more Brownlow Medal votes for the season than any other Giant. We are going to side with the club themselves though, and nominate Tim Tarranto the winner of the Kevin Sheedy Medal in 2019 as the GWS Best and Fairest. The 21-year-old prevailed in a thrilling vote count by two votes from Cameron and four from third place Jacob Hopper. An underrated member of the Giants vaunted midfield group, Tarranto played all 26 games and averaged 27.7 Disposals, 4.6 Marks & 6.3 Tackles in 2019.
Their work in September very nearly earned them an A for the season but we have marked them harshly on their inability to nail down a top four position at the conclusion of the Home and Away rounds.