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A verbal spell and a hard sell

Date

Richard Hinds

The thinker: Kevin Sheedy watches the Giants train this week at Blacktown.

The thinker: Kevin Sheedy watches the Giants train this week at Blacktown. Photo: Steve Christo

AFTER a long and amiable conversation, you rise from the restaurant table. Suddenly, Kevin Sheedy takes your hand in a firm grip, fixes you with a steely glare and demands, rather than asks: “So you think we are going to fail?”

And, just like that, Sheedy has you where he wants you. Like a batsman who had been pushing forward comfortably, you are suddenly on the back foot trying to fend off a rearing delivery. Surprised, reactive, disarmed.

At the hotel in Canberra where the Giants are staying before their final NAB Cup match, you have asked the veteran coach, in a dozen different ways, why this mad enterprise will succeed. How a foreign game will gain even a toehold in rugby league heartland. How even he, the great AFL salesman, can convince a city that loves winners to adopt a team that will almost certainly get pummelled most weeks — starting tonight at ANZ Stadium against the Swans.

Yet, after filling your notebook with the customary mixture of homespun philosophy and potted history, Sheedy's old-school aggression has made a brief appearance. Forget about why GWS will succeed. Sheedy challenges you to tell him why it will not.

This is why Sheedy was plucked from semi-retirement as the AFL's international ambassador to head a lavish, far-fetched enterprise. Like few others, the 64-year-old can stop you in your tracks and make you second-guess yourself. And, by the time you've regained your senses, he has probably slipped a Giants ticket in your top pocket.

“I think the most important word is 'hello',” says Sheedy of his ability to talk about his game with anyone in Sydney from corporate heavyweights to the first bloke he sees in a pub. “If you are genuine they will speak to you. If you are not? They will know.”

Of course, once Sheedy's verbal spell is broken, there remains a cold reality for the Giants — starting tonight. If GWS is thrashed, those who underestimate the AFL's resolve, the size of its war chest, will laugh and mock. For the league diehards and sceptics, a belting will provide the first evidence the Giants are destined to fail. Even for the true believers, it will demonstrate the difficulty of selling a long-term vision to a public that, for a time, will see only ritual defeat.

Typically, Sheedy's response to this unusual challenge goes via the cape. To the new AFL clubrooms he recently opened in Bathurst. To the Concord Cats, who boast record junior participation this season. To some future time, when he expects the Giants' captain to hail from Campbelltown and the vice-captain from Parramatta. And, by the time Sheedy's mind is back at the table, you have to check your pocket to see if he's slipped in another ticket.

But if Sheedy's vision can seem dreamy and romantic, he does not underestimate the challenge. He listens intently when you talk about the regeneration of the NRL. “I just work and watch and listen,” he says of his time spent familiarising himself with the ways, and the people, of Sydney.

After Sheedy caused ripples in Sydney by saying that he had never heard of Parramatta NRL star Nathan Hindmarsh, he went to a game at Parramatta Stadium. “I like the game because I think it's tough, hard-hitting. When you go along and see [Darren] Lockyer, he's just a fantastic player. He could have played AFL like that. You look at people in other sports and say, 'wow, I wouldn't mind one of those. What about Muhammad Ali at centre half-back'? It just spreads your thinking.”

After two years of spruiking, Sheedy has made a name for himself in Sydney. Those who have never heard of the Giants' dynamic young midfielder Dom Tyson are accustomed to the coach's eccentric charm and wily nature. But, for all Sheedy's personal appeal, and the AFL's massive investment, it will be what happens when the potential converts clap eyes on the team that determines the Giants' success. Sheedy believes there must be a chemistry between the fans and his players.

“You choose a team, and a player, and you just get to like them,” he says. “As a kid, I don't know why I liked Richie Benaud, but I did. I just thought he had a calmness, he had a presence about him. I knew why I liked Herb Elliott. He had a killer instinct and he would beat the crap out of the others. He took no prisoners at all.”

What will the kids from the west like about his Giants? “We'll have a couple of real giants, big ruckmen,” he says. “You'll see a group of kids and you'll grow with them. Obviously [Israel] Folau has been an attraction because he is from NRL. He might drag some in. You go to the lolly shop and you want a liquorice strap, but all of a sudden you also want buddies, a freckle and you'll have a sherbet bomb. I think we'll have that for people.”

The initial GWS team is a mixed bag. Veterans such as James McDonald, Chad Cornes, Dean Brogan and Luke Power plucked from the scrapheap. These 30-plus players provide some backbone, but will also be disposed of when a talent-laden list reaches its prime, thus helping alleviate potential salary-cap problems.

More significantly, there is two years' worth of prime talent from across Australia. “Pretty good, yeah, pretty good,” says Sheedy of his budding stars. “Looking at players selected and pre-selected [in 2010], we had [Curtly] Hampton, [Adam] Treloar, [Dylan] Shiel, [Jeremy] Cameron last year, they would be first-round picks. Then we've got the batch from the last draft we haven't seen too much of. We'll get a fair indication about their dedication and whether they will fulfil their talent.”

There were glimmers of early promise throughout the pre-season. Narrow losses to Collingwood and the Western Bulldogs. Victory over the fellow trailblazer Gold Coast. Yet Sheedy is honest about the tough road ahead. Victory will be a goal, but the focus will be on “getting something out of every match”. “We might have a very good year and not win a game,” he says. “We might have very good quarter-by-quarter results but just not be able to hold onto it for 120 minutes. We'll measure that.”

Sheedy says he will not let his young team be beaten up physically during the establishment years. “We won't make them run the Melbourne Cup every week. Bart Cummings wouldn't do that to a two year-old.”

Assuming the heavy defeats pile up, how does the club maintain the morale of young players plucked from the football heartland and plonked in an AFL wasteland? Sheedy says it is all about keeping the eye on the prize. “You can win and win and never win a premiership,” he says. “Some of these clubs have had 30 or 40 years without winning a premiership. They are just going around in circles. We are trying to get to a goal, which is to win a premiership.”

If Sheedy is in Sydney to sell that dream, his coaching role is intriguing. There is a strong perception his main assistant, Port Adelaide premiership coach Mark Williams, is the “real coach”. However, while Sheedy acknowledges his role is 70-30 coaching and marketing, he insists the Giants have the same model being used at other clubs where experienced assistants are playing important roles.

Although his contract expires at the end of the season, Sheedy certainly gives no impression he will stand aside at the end of the first season. At 64, he looks fit and eager. On the table are the notes about the Giants' next two opponents he has studied in his room for the previous two hours.

“I don't want to live in a comfort zone,” he says. “If I ever retire, I'll retire in my 70s, or some time later.”

You ask how Sheedy thinks his contribution this season will be measured. “Common sense will give you the answer,” he says. “If we are very competitive on the field, and we market ourselves intelligently, this group will eventually make its way.”

A new rivalry

MOST expect the AFL's Sydney rivalry to be mercilessly one-sided — at least in the initial stages. Naturally, Kevin Sheedy disagrees.

The Greater Western Sydney coach draws from his amusing collection of historical analogies to provide some hope for his young team in tonight's debut against the impressive Swans. “The Americans thought they were going to spank the Vietnamese once,” says Sheedy. “But they didn't.”

The North Vietnamese triumph over the Americans was partly the consequence of an elaborate series of tunnels in which they hid from the enemy. However, unless the ANZ Stadium surface has deteriorated rapidly in the past few weeks, it remains uncertain how even the old war horse Sheedy and his experienced lieutenant Mark Williams could plan a similar ambush.

Particularly given the Swans will be eager to mark their territory. That the Giants have hogged the media spotlight during the off-season, at the cost of the Swans, has not gone unnoticed at the SCG. So Sheedy is well aware the Swans will be keen to put his newly unwrapped team back in its box.

“I think they will be,” says Sheedy, when asked if the Swans will be heavily motivated to humiliate his team. “But I don't think they are going to. We are not here to take a beating. We are not going to be a doormat.”

The way the relationship between GWS and the Swans develops is intriguing. There is mutual benefit for the clubs to co-operate in promotion and development, a relationship you would think mitigates against real acrimony. Yet, Sheedy insists, a fierce on-field rivalry will develop.

“There is no love between any club in any area in Melbourne,” he says. “Why should there be in Sydney? I will be looking to the Swans the way I used to look at Collingwood and Carlton. Why shouldn't I?”

Given some bookies have set tonight's line at 99.5 points, what does Sheedy think constitutes a par performance by his callow outfit? “A respectable result would be a kick either way,” he says.

What is a realistic result? “I don't know,” he concedes. “See how we go. I will be eager to see how we get up to play a side that has missed the finals maybe once in 10 years.”

Related Coverage

AFL 2015

Round 1
Thu, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
CAR 78 vs RIC 105 19:20MCG
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
MEL 115 vs GCF 89 13:40MCG
SYD 72 vs ESS 60 16:35ANZ
BRI 74 vs COL 86 19:20G
WBU 97 vs WCE 87 19:20ES
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 78 vs GWS 87 13:10ES
ADE 140 vs NTH 63 15:20Adelaide Oval
FRE 75 vs PTA 68 18:40Domain Stadium
Mon, 06 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 123 vs GEE 61 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
WCE 131 vs CAR 62 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 66 vs WBU 85 13:45MCG
GWS 101 vs MEL 56 14:10SO
COL 63 vs ADE 90 16:35ES
GCF 76 vs STK 104 19:20MS
PTA 44 vs SYD 92 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
GEE 60 vs FRE 104 13:10SS
ESS 78 vs HAW 76 15:20MCG
NTH 133 vs BRI 51 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
COL 140 vs STK 66 19:50MCG
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
CAR 84 vs ESS 105 13:45MCG
ADE 80 vs MEL 55 14:10Adelaide Oval
SYD 111 vs GWS 90 16:35SCG
NTH 105 vs PTA 113 19:20ES
BRI 58 vs RIC 137 19:20G
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 127 vs WBU 57 13:10AS
GEE 105 vs GCF 96 15:20SS
WCE 81 vs FRE 111 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 51 vs MEL 83 19:50MCG
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 81 vs CAR 121 11:10NZ
ESS 49 vs COL 69 14:40MCG
GWS 119 vs GCF 53 17:40SO
PTA 99 vs HAW 91 19:40Adelaide Oval
FRE 74 vs SYD 60 20:45Domain Stadium
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI 65 vs WCE 118 13:10G
GEE 67 vs NTH 83 15:20SS
WBU 125 vs ADE 68 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 45 vs COL 120 19:50MCG
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC 76 vs GEE 85 13:45MCG
SYD 73 vs WBU 77 14:10SCG
GCF 118 vs BRI 54 16:35MS
NTH 70 vs HAW 130 19:20ES
WCE 120 vs GWS 33 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL 50 vs FRE 118 13:10MCG
STK 80 vs ESS 82 15:20ES
ADE 91 vs PTA 115 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
COL vs GEE 19:50MCG
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
NTH vs RIC 13:45BA
WBU vs STK 14:10ES
GWS vs HAW 16:35Spotless Stadium
GCF vs ADE 17:10MS
MEL vs SYD 19:20MCG
FRE vs ESS 20:10Domain Stadium
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs BRI 15:20ES
PTA vs WCE 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS vs NTH 19:50ES
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE vs STK 13:45Adelaide Oval
HAW vs MEL 14:10MCG
CAR vs GWS 16:35ES
SYD vs GEE 19:20ANZ
WCE vs GCF 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
WBU vs FRE 13:10ES
RIC vs COL 15:20MCG
BRI vs PTA 16:40G
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
GEE vs CAR 19:50ES
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
STK vs WCE 13:45ES
GWS vs ADE 14:10Spotless Stadium
GCF vs COL 16:35MS
HAW vs SYD 19:20MCG
FRE vs NTH 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS vs BRI 13:10ES
MEL vs WBU 15:20MCG
PTA vs RIC 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD vs CAR 19:50SCG
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW vs GCF 13:45AS
MEL vs PTA 14:10TIO Traeger Park
WBU vs GWS 16:35ES
RIC vs ESS 19:20MCG
ADE vs FRE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs STK 13:10G
COL vs NTH 15:20MCG
WCE vs GEE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE vs RIC 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs ADE 13:40MCG
GCF vs SYD 16:35MS
ESS vs GEE 19:20ES
PTA vs WBU 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
GWS vs BRI 13:10Spotless Stadium
NTH vs WCE 15:20BA
STK vs HAW 16:40ES
Mon, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL vs COL 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
PTA vs GEE 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
GCF vs FRE 13:40MS
WCE vs ESS 16:35Domain Stadium
NTH vs SYD 19:20ES
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs GWS 13:10MCG
STK vs MEL 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Thu, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
ADE vs HAW 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC vs WCE 19:50MCG
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs PTA 13:40MCG
GWS vs NTH 16:35Spotless Stadium
WBU vs BRI 19:20ES
Sun, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
GEE vs MEL 15:20SS
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Thu, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE vs COL 20:10Domain Stadium
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD vs RIC 19:50SCG
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs ESS 13:40MCG
BRI vs ADE 16:35G
STK vs WBU 19:20ES
Sun, 28 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs GCF 15:20ES
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Thu, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs PTA 19:20SCG
Fri, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
COL vs HAW 19:50MCG
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs GWS 13:40MCG
GCF vs NTH 16:35MS
WBU vs CAR 19:20ES
MEL vs WCE 19:40TIO
Sun, 05 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs STK 13:10ES
ADE vs GEE 15:20Adelaide Oval
FRE vs BRI 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Thu, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs COL 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs CAR 19:50MCG
Sat, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs MEL 13:40MCG
WBU vs GCF 16:35CAZ
NTH vs GEE 19:20ES
WCE vs ADE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 12 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs STK 13:10Spotless Stadium
HAW vs FRE 15:20AS
BRI vs SYD 16:40G
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
NTH vs ESS 19:50ES
Sat, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs WBU 13:45SS
GCF vs GWS 14:10MS
COL vs WCE 16:35ES
SYD vs HAW 19:20ANZ
FRE vs CAR 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 19 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs BRI 13:10MCG
PTA vs ADE 15:20Adelaide Oval
STK vs RIC 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs GEE 13:45SO
ADE vs GCF 14:10Adelaide Oval
RIC vs FRE 16:35MCG
ESS vs PTA 19:20ES
BRI vs NTH 19:20G
Sun, 26 JulTimes shown AEST
WBU vs COL 13:10ES
MEL vs STK 15:20MCG
WCE vs SYD 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
HAW vs RIC 19:50MCG
Sat, 01 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE vs BRI 13:45SS
COL vs MEL 14:10MCG
SYD vs ADE 16:35SCG
CAR vs NTH 19:20ES
GCF vs WCE 19:20MS
Sun, 02 AugTimes shown AEST
PTA vs STK 13:10Adelaide Oval
ESS vs WBU 15:20ES
FRE vs GWS 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE vs RIC 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
COL vs CAR 13:45MCG
WBU vs PTA 14:10ES
BRI vs GCF 16:35G
GEE vs SYD 19:20SS
WCE vs HAW 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
MEL vs NTH 13:10MCG
GWS vs ESS 15:20Spotless Stadium
STK vs FRE 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD vs COL 19:50SCG
Sat, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
ESS vs ADE 13:45ES
NTH vs STK 14:10BA
PTA vs GWS 16:35Adelaide Oval
GEE vs HAW 19:20MCG
BRI vs CAR 19:20G
Sun, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC vs GCF 13:10MCG
WBU vs MEL 15:20ES
FRE vs WCE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Fri, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
HAW vs PTA 19:50ES
Sat, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
COL vs RIC 13:45MCG
GWS vs SYD 14:10Spotless Stadium
GCF vs ESS 16:35MS
STK vs GEE 19:20ES
ADE vs BRI 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH vs FRE 13:10ES
CAR vs MEL 15:20MCG
WCE vs WBU 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 28 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE vs COL 19:50MCG
Sat, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
GWS vs CAR 13:45Spotless Stadium
HAW vs BRI 14:10AS
NTH vs WBU 16:35ES
ESS vs RIC 19:20MCG
GCF vs PTA 19:20MS
Sun, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE vs WCE 13:10Adelaide Oval
STK vs SYD 15:20ES
FRE vs MEL 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Fri, 04 SepTimes shown AEST
COL vs ESS 00:00MCG
RIC vs NTH 00:00ES
HAW vs CAR 00:00MCG
GEE vs ADE 00:00SS
SYD vs GCF 00:00SCG
MEL vs GWS 00:00ES
BRI vs WBU 00:00G
PTA vs FRE 00:30Adelaide Oval
WCE vs STK 02:00Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Fremantle 5 5 0 0 151.10 20
Collingwood 5 4 1 0 147.53 16
Western Bulldogs 5 4 1 0 104.75 16
Hawthorn 5 3 2 0 149.86 12
West Coast Eagles 5 3 2 0 145.92 12
Sydney Swans 5 3 2 0 118.26 12
Adelaide Crows 5 3 2 0 111.40 12
GWS Giants 5 3 2 0 102.87 12
View all
 
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