Inside The Greater Western Sydney Giants, AFL's Most Hated Yet Inspiring Club

There's a big, big chance you'll be deeply inspired by their success.

27/05/2016 12:45 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:53 PM AEST
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The Giants celebrate last week's big win over the high-flying Bulldogs.

"Well there's a big big sound from the West of the town
It's the sound of the mighty GIANTS" – GWS Giants team song.

The first thing you notice at Greater Western Sydney Giants training is how much noise the players make as they go through their drills. A loud team is always a happy team in sport, and the big, big sound on the Giants training field this sunny western Sydney morning is a clear sign of a team in good spirits.

The Giants are entitled to be feeling good about life. They sit third on the AFL ladder with a 7-2 win loss ratio -- a record that includes a thumping 75 point victory over premiers Hawthorn.

These guys want each other to succeed. You can see it and hear it. Even in training, when a player takes a difficult kick from the sideline, there are huge cheers when the ball sails through. Backslaps here, high fives there, encouragement everywhere. You can't fake that sort of enthusiasm.

The second thing you notice at GWS training is that some of the Giants really are that.

Stevie J holds up a goal post. Shane Mumford is just about as big as one.

The third thing you notice once you've had a good look around, is what an excellent facility they have. GWS headquarters is out at Sydney Olympic Park, at what used to be the golf driving range. The clubhouse is now a clubhouse of a different kind, and the old golf range is a full-sized AFL training field.

Everything here feels new, shiny, fresh, optimistic -- and above all -- inclusive.

Example: The café, which you won't be surprised to learn serves a "giant breakfast", is strategically situated in the middle of the clubhouse, halfway between the admin area and the players' zone. Everyone who works at the club comes together here. Fans who are club members can also come for breakfast or lunch and interact with the players, or just have a coffee and watch them train.

Another example: Head coach Leon Cameron's office is a glass-walled room inside the players' inner sanctum. It advertises his accessibility.

"Leon constantly has players in and out of his office and head coaches are not the most time rich people in the world," midfield coach and triple premiership winner with the Brisbane Lions Luke Power told The Huffington Post Australia. "When you're in the highest posit of leadership, this attitude filters down through the club.

"If you show genuine empathy and care for the players, then when it's time to have hard conversations, at least players know it's coming from the right place so they can learn and improve."

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Cameron has the respect of the older set as well as younger players like 21-year-old Zac Williams, an indigenous player from Narrandera, NSW

The inner sanctum has things you'd expect, like a state-of-the-art gym, a workstation for each player, massage rooms, relaxation rooms and so on. There are also one or two surprises, like the indoor sports arena with a mini AFL field marked on the floor so that the team can talk tactics in a 3-D setting. It's a lot more sophisticated than a whiteboard.

Player welfare is paramount. Each player self reports their sleep hours each morning. If a pattern of not enough shut-eye emerges, someone takes that player aside to see if everything's OK. This happened recently. Turned out a snake had bitten a player's dog and he'd been up all night looking after it. The player felt that problem might have sounded a lot like "the cat ate my homework". But everything was sorted and he was given an afternoon off to catch a nap.

In the players' gym, there are two mottos emblazoned in huge capital letters on the walls. One is "WE ACCEPT THE STANDARDS WE WALK PAST". The other is "WORK HARD. STAY HUMBLE". There's a third wall too, this one with multiple motivational messages. These are the team values, and they are not for public consumption.

It's a giant gym with a giant and fan and... you get the idea.

What might those values be? Luke Power's not giving a thing away, yet when you talk to him, you get a pretty good feel for what they might be. In a nutshell, it's probably something to the effect of not getting ahead of yourself, and that old sporting cliché of taking things one game at a time.

Round here, lack of ego or hubris really means something. Forget the 7-2 start to the year. The Giants started 6-2 last year and missed the finals with an 11-11 win/loss record. No one's hanging their hat on anything yet.

"This team is going to be very good, but off the back of a lot of hard work," Power said. "They have an ability to take in information or take on a skill and put it into practice very quickly. And that's not just football stuff. They can do it with lots of things. They're a very talented group but the last four years has taught them they can't just rely on talent. They have to work hard and get stronger and fitter.

"We've still got a lot to prove. Each week we cover off something we haven't done before. We had our first win in Perth this year and we can now win games without some really good players playing. We're starting to tick some of the boxes that good teams tick.

Craig Golding/AFL Media/Getty Im
Giants midlfield coach Luke Power presents midfielder Jack Steele of the Giants with his jumper before his debut in 2015. Steele, from Canberra, is another product of the Giants academy.

"In our first couple of seasons we played in patches and were having to find small wins. We couldn't judge ourselves on wins and losses, otherwise it'd be like a morgue every day. We didn't have the maturity to win games. But we've gone from winning quarters to staying in the game for a half, then three quarters and now we're starting to be able to play games out. It's about growing all the time.

"The senior players are the main driving force. Guys like Shane Mumford, Heath Shaw, Stevie J, Ryan Griffen -- who was captain of his club before he came here. They've all proven to be really valuable.

"The emerging players are now making a big difference too. Instead of recruiting mature superstars we went for players like Tom Scully and [co-captains] Phil Davis and Callan Ward, who compliment each other as captains really well."

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Callan Ward (left) and Phil Davis after being named co-captains in 2014.

A recent story on just about exploded the footy universe. It argued that the AFL's other recent expansion team -- the Gold Coast Suns -- erred in recruiting their captain Gary Ablett, the 32-year-old former Geelong champ who by most people's estimations is the best player of the last decade.

Here's some of what the article (which appears to have been pulled from said:

"The individual achievements of Gary at the Gold Coast have been fantastic, no one is arguing with that. But the best result the Suns have had in that time is 12th. That was 2014. In the two years since then they've been going downhill at a rate of knots.

They recruited him at too old an age. They really need to look at what GWS did with the guys they got -- Scully, Davis and their co-captain Callan Ward -- who were about five years younger when they recruited them. They're going to be part of sustained success at the GWS over the next few years as they make a real run at the flag."

The article said what plenty are thinking: that the Giants have played the off-field game as smart as they're now playing on field. But many are jealous of their newfound success. Led by -- who else? – Collingwood president Eddie McGuire, a serious anti-Giants backlash is raging in Melbourne.

Supporters of traditional Victorian clubs are jealous of the generous draft, zone and academy concessions which were granted to the Giants and the Suns from day one. In a nutshell, it means they get their pick of better players ahead of other clubs, and from a wider geographical area. (Here's a map of that.)

Funny thing, though. No one's moaning about the Suns right now, who languish in 15th spot on the ladder. You've still got to take that talent and mould it into something. And that's what the Giants are doing so well now.

The Giants travel to a packed Adelaide Oval this Saturday night. How they perform will be a huge test of their premiership credentials. Currently they're equal second flag favourites with the bookies. The (then) unbeaten Sydney Swans travelled to Adelaide earlier this season and lost. The Giants would love to get one up on the Swannies. Not that the cross-town rivalry is that big a thing.

"We've got so much respect for their culture and the way they go about things. They're still the benchmark," Power said.

There's a fair chance other clubs will be saying that about the Giants soon, if they're not already. The final thing you notice when you visit Giants training is that their headquarters are called the "Learning Life Centre". They're learning life pretty well, these Giants, and their football is coming along for the ride. That's a big, big lesson we'd all do well to heed.

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It's high fives all-round at the Giants these days. Very high if you're Jeremy Cameron (right)

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