Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Greater Western Sydney Giants should aim to be big, old(ish) and strong

As footy baptisms go, they don't get much harder than the one experienced by the Gold Coast this year. A first-up twenty goal loss to a Carlton side looking strictly mid-table, followed by a thirteen goal defeat to Footscray, sorry, the Western Bulldogs. On both occasions they managed only just above fifty points and, although their list management has been highly praised for their foresight and talent, yet the kids haven't been able to physically compete with the established clubs they've come up against.

This must sound alarm bells for the Greater Western Sydney project due to kick off next year. Their biggest money signing, Rugby League expat Israel Folau, has struggled to adapt to the speed of AFL so far, as has the Gold Coast's big poaching, Karmichael Hunt. "K" has a better Aussie Rules pedigree than "Izzy", having represented Queensland as a schoolboy, but questions now should be asked as to whether youth, and total youth, is the way forward for a GWS franchise which probably won't have the same luxury of time - former Swans coach Paul Roos is convinced that team success is the only way for the league thrive in Sin City.

Roos' recruitment policy reflected this for the majority of his time harbourside. Over his eight-plus year tenure, he brought in several re-treads and mature-bodied players who were able to keep his side in finals contention. Recently, names such as Josh Kennedy, Ben McGlynn, Mike Pyke, Shane Mumford, Martin Mattner and Rhyce Shaw have made themselves a home in the shadow of the Harbour Bridge alongside youngsters Dan Hanneberry, Craig Bird and local boy Kieren Jack. Success for GWS is paramount for the AFL and should they risk a totally-youth oriented recruitment program as the Suns have, then they risk losing fans and, eventually, losing credibility when public opinion suggested - with good, but not perfect reasoning - that a Tasmanian team was the better option for the AFL's eighteenth licence.

This recruitment of more mature players has thrived once again with expanded rookie lists and the success that Fremantle and Geelong have had with the likes of Michael Barlow, Alex Silvagni and James Podsiadly. This season as the top level talent went north (voluntarily or involuntarily) to join the Suns, clubs were forced to face the fact they were more likely to get a better quality recycled player than young prospect and drafted accordingly, allowing Andrew Krakouer a route back into the AFL and securing lifelines for players like Brad Miller, Mitch Hahn, Ed Barlow, Nick Lower and Robert Campbell.

In order to secure a reasonable first-season showing - and with much of this year's talent plumbed already by the Suns - the Giants will have to recruit accordingly, and mix their poached players and prospects with more hardened, experienced bodies. A quick glance around the next tier down suggests there is the quality at that level: Troy Selwood and Jaxson Barham at Geelong, Jarryd Allen at Sandringham, Bens Davies and Jolley at Williamstown, Adam Pattison at Box Hill and most notably, Brendan Fevola at Casey. Each of these players - though not superstars - is serviceable at AFL level and should serve to ensure defeats aren't as demoralising. Each also would be motivated by their last chance at AFL level, and each could be replaced by a developing youngster within three years.

By expanding to Greater Western Sydney, the AFL willingly acknowledged they were biting off a piece of the sporting pie which they weren't sure they could digest, let alone chew. To make the transition easier, it may be best to simply acknowledge that youth at all costs is a flawed strategy for starting a club. They should, because if the Giants are creamed week in, week out next season, the notoriously fickle Sydney crowds will flock to the exits and the AFL's greatest experiment since Brisbane will go down as a sure-fire failure.

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