New ground: The Swans take to Sydney in 1982. Photo: Peter Mayoh
BARRY Round has memories of his arrival in Sydney. They are fond 30 years on, but back in 1982, he and his fellow Swans were more like ugly ducklings.
Round was the captain of the South Melbourne Football Club when it migrated to Sydney three decades ago. Times were tough, so much so he feared Sydney might be the death of his Swans. Never in his wildest imagination did he contemplate the city would be home to two AFL teams.
Tonight at ANZ Stadium the AFL's dream becomes reality when its team in Greater Western Sydney, the Giants, end two years of build-up with their first game in the elite competition, fittingly against the Swans.
Kevin Sheedy with his 17 first-game Giants. Photo: Getty Images
''Did I ever think there would be a second side in Sydney?'' Round asks with a chuckle. ''Back then I thought we might have trouble surviving.
''The crowds in the beginning weren't great, and it was a hard struggle, so to say then there would be another team in Sydney, people would have laughed at you for a month.
''We didn't get a lot of help from the press. It was very much pointed out to us it was a rugby league town and all we would get was goalkickers and the scores about five pages in from the back.
''We were training on the SCG No. 2 Oval, which was used as a car park when they had rugby league games on, so there would be car tracks and dips and bumps and so on. We all had daytime jobs so we trained at night, but we had no lights, except for a tiny square in one corner where we had to do all our skills.''
That the club survived to celebrate 30 years in Sydney, is remarkable.
Like Round in 1982, Callan Ward will tonight lead his Sydney side in its first home game. The Giants aren't as unwanted as the Swans once were, although there is some trepidation in the west from NRL types. Ward wasn't born when the Swans flew north, nor does he recall too much about their woeful times a decade later. He does realise how much a challenge it would have been, and knows there is a different challenge for his club.
The Giants, who will field 14 teenagers in their 22-man team tonight, are not expected to win too many games this season, but are building for the future.
''It's very exciting for us, three-quarters of the team are playing their first game,'' Ward said. ''We all realise there will be times where our fans do see us not performing at the level they would like, but I think they have just got to stick by us. It's our first year in the competition, and we'll get better. And we'll be giving everything week in and week out.
''I think it's important we start a really strong culture and even more important we stay positive all year, because there will probably be games where we don't perform and we get smashed. But we'll stay positive and really compete hard the following week. There will be tough times, but eventually there will be good times.''
GWS coach Kevin Sheedy isn't giving up on pulling off victory against the Swans tonight. ''We've got every chance of winning. We are here in the ball park. Anything can happen in this game. Don't even think about that,'' said Sheedy. ''I've been in a quarter, 11 goals down. No one ever thought you could win in the next 90 minutes and we [Essendon] got up and belted North Melbourne [in 2001]. Nobody believed we could win.
''This game throws up lots of challenges and whether you've got to come back in a game after an average third quarter and win, you can do that. It happened back in 1984 in a grand final, when we were down. Anything can happen tomorrow, and that's why people should come and have a look.''