The Alex Docherty Column – There’s Still Something To Salvage In The Land Of The Giants

When the news broke of Leon Cameron stepping down as GWS coach last Thursday morning, the first thing that crossed my mind was of expectations realised. We all saw it coming at some point, right?

With Cameron out of contract at the end of this year, I thought this may be the year Leon waved goodbye. If the Giants didn’t get a good start to back up their semi-final status of last year – keep in mind as well, that not many people outside of GWS believed in them after their diabolical 2020 season – then the pressure would mount and mount quickly.

Before their loss to Carlton on the weekend, the Giants had only won two games from eight starts and their performance the weekend prior against the Cats was pretty uninspiring, to say the least.

There have been a few games this year where the Giants looked lost and directionless and you can tell by the expressions on Leon Cameron’s face and through a few post-game pressers that he looked a bit burnt out – joys of coaching, am I right?

We had this discussion on the A3 Footy Podcast the very same morning he announced he was stepping away; does he walk away as a successful coach.

He made a Grand Final from sixth and, as much as I despise talking about it, he got so much out of that team in 2019 only to run out of juice on the day it mattered the most. I’d also say he was pretty unlucky with 2016.

They say that game is one of the greatest games of all time and it was genuinely a 50-50 game right up until the final siren.

As a Dogs supporter, it’s custom to hate the Giants and everyone who dons the colours, and most Dogs supporters would be feeling pretty stoked that the club is ass over backwards in terms of where they’re heading in 2022.

Hate is a strong word, but I guess that it’s part of the theatre of football sometimes. You need figures to love, figures to hate, and the figures that just annoy you so much with constant bad decisions.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t feel a little sad about Leon stepping down as the coach after all this time. He probably won’t admit to it, but I think he’s one of the ringleaders in terms of putting fuel on the fire that is the feud between the Giants and the Bulldogs.

You can’t honestly tell me with a straight face that he wasn’t one of a few that manifested the game plan to act like a pack of dogs towards the football and target Marcus Bontempelli at every turn in that 2019 elimination final?

Anyway, enough ranting about that. The point is that Cameron, despite the lack of premierships, was a good coach and perhaps the time is right for the Giants to go in another direction.

What’s the ceiling with this current team? Look at their top-liners – Lachie Whitfield, Josh Kelly, Toby Greene and Stephen Coniglio – yes, some of them are not in great form right now, but they are all in their late 20s, with some prime football still to come and are Giants for life. A guy like Nick Haynes turns 30 in the middle of the year, and probably has another season or two of good footy left in him in the defensive half.

Tim Taranto is one you’d classify as an A-grade weapon in the midfield, although his kicking has let him down crucially at times over the past couple of seasons, and I’d also argue guys like Isaac Cumming and Sam Taylor are on the precipice of being elite defenders – Cumming as the rebounder and Taylor the key defender.

But the depth starts to fall away after that. There isn’t much footy left in Phil Davis or Callan Ward, as great servants as they have been for the Giants since their arrival. Matt De Boer surely has to call it quits after this year too, I don’t think he’s added much over the past couple of seasons, and I don’t know if I consider Adam Kennedy or Lachie Keeffe best 22 players either – Ammos players at best.

The key talls of Himmelberg and Hogan up forward have been very inconsistent. I don’t see Himmelberg as the number one tall; he was good behind Jeremy Cameron, but he’s struggled since his departure. Meanwhile, Hogan has struggled for continuity as injuries have plagued his time since crossing over from Fremantle.

They do have good kids coming through –Tom Green is fast emerging as an elite inside mid in just his third season at the level, I’d love to see more of Finn Callaghan, he looks like he belongs at AFL level having seen a couple of his games in his first year.

I like the cut of Connor Idun, he’s a true competitor in every sense of the word, you know what you’re going to get from him week in and week out and the likes of James Peatling, Conor Stone, Xavier O’Halloran and Tanner Bruhn have all seen games this year.

But none of it happens without a coach, and there have been many suggestions and rumours already circulating.

I’m sure I’m not the only one out here, but I am nigh-on sick to death of hearing Alastair Clarkson’s name being put up as a suggestion. We get it every time a senior coach is under the pump and there’s no doubt there are a few other coaches that are sweating on their future.

It’s great we’ve got a word out of him and that he’d like to coach again. Maybe he’d actually be a good fit for the Giants if he approached them and they said yes.

You can’t rule a guy like him out, but by the sounds of it, he looks eager to get a Tasmanian team up and about in the coming years and the romanticism about him coaching that team is appealing. But the Giants are a good enough team that if someone like him comes in as coach, then the 2-7 record after nine rounds could easily be flipped in 12 months’ time, or perhaps even be greater.

The Giants need a fresh set of eyes overlooking this playing group. They have got talent that is much better than two wins from their first nine games. All it takes is a new face and the fortunes change, and we don’t need to go far back to see it.

Michael Voss in his first year at Carlton has them currently inside the top four, with seven wins from their first nine games. As much as I have publicly stated that the Blues are not a ‘four-quarter team’ yet, they’re continuing to produce wins on the board and how they move the footy at times has been far greater than anything his predecessors have established.

Even though Collingwood and Hawthorn have got negative records next to their name right now, the work that Craig McRae and Sam Mitchell have put in place and the direction that both sides are heading is positive enough – they are similar in terms of giving the young boys opportunities to shine and grow.

I’ll be honest, I expected Cameron’s bags packed mid-season and probably later, but my colleague and good friend Alex Miller made a very good point in terms of making the decision to cut Leon off now, rather than wait until round 15 when the side has probably won another two games and sitting firmly inside the bottom four.

Who knows what happens down the season – perhaps the Suns, who have been very solid these past couple of weeks, fall off the cliff in the second half of the year and they lose their patience with Stewy Dew? Or North Melbourne tell David Noble with five or six games to go; ‘thanks for your time, but we want someone else’ and shove him out the door?

I would now like to take this time to bring out a quote from Mark Robinson, one of football’s most lovable journalists (I use that phrase loosely) from Fox Footy’s pre-season preview show or whatever you like to call it that was done back in February.

“James Hird’s not getting back into football to be a part-time leadership person. James Hird wants to coach AFL football again… They’ve got a ready-made coach when Leon Cameron’s ready to go, they’ve got a person there who I think will put his hand up.”

Ever since he said that, I’ve sat at my desk and have thought about it this comment many times. Does he want to coach again? What’s he learned since the Essendon days?

Hird was taken on by the Giants in a part-time leadership advisor role at the start of the year, and the more I thought about it, the more it felt like what Robbo said was a premonition of things to come.

Should Hird coach again? Many will say no, he put the game into disrepute with the Essendon supplements scandal all those years ago – and just a quick sidebar, anyone who thinks he should come back to Essendon and take over from Ben Rutten can get in the bin.

I read Mick Warner’s The Boys Club a while back – great read, 11/10 would recommend if you haven’t picked it up – and without spoiling it too much, the vibe I got out of it was that James Hird was set up as the fall man in the entire scandal, just to make AFL House look somewhat competent.

I won’t get into the dirty details – that’s been done to death, but whether you choose to believe the events of what happened from Warner’s book, that’s your prerogative.

But the fact is that it was a mistake – and a very critical one – that has forced a man, who Bombers supporters and most opposition used to adore as a player, to step away from the game and recover from what was considered to be a massive mental hit.

Why would you want to come back as a coach after everything that’s happened? After all the backlash from the findings and the punishments, it would take a man of significant testicular fortitude to come back and make amends as coach.

Even to this day, people still talk of James Hird and can’t go a minute without mentioning the damn supplements scandal, and we are approaching approximately 10 years to the day where the news first broke through.

I will say this on Hird; if his heart is in the right place and his frame of mind is in the right place, I personally wouldn’t be too mad to see him give it another go. He served his penance for the drugs saga; I think we all need to let it go now and let it be history.

Hard to believe it, but I’m bringing up another maligned media figure, but Kane Cornes the other night on Footy Classified said that because Hird hasn’t been involved in the same capacity as guys like Voss or even St Kilda’s head coach Brett Ratten since their sackings, that he’s not the right guy for the job, not even in the best 20 coaching candidates.

He does have point in terms of the progression and the additional experience that Voss and Ratten have, since 2015, Hird has distanced himself from football as opposed to coaching, but then again, in his shoes, I’d have probably done the same thing, and maybe that causes some regression in terms of coaching style and how to engage with the players.

I suppose we’ll see how it all happens as the season progresses. He’s just been announced as an assistant to GWS’ interim coach Mark McVeigh, which is good for him. It indicates there is some form of desire to coach, even if it’s at a small, part-time capacity.

It’s interesting to hear Gil say last Friday that there he finds no reason why Hird can’t coach again, meaning that there is backing from him to be there as senior coach again. Then again, he’s leaving at the end of the season, so does it really matter too much what he thinks?

Think back to when I said that the Giants need a fresh set of eyes, does Hird necessarily fit that bill? As much as the idea of him coming back into coaching would be (somewhat) good for the sport, others who have done the work over the years should be seen over him for now – others who have worked elsewhere over the past five to six years.

I think of guys like Scott Burns, currently an assistant at Adelaide, or Richmond assistant Adam Kingsley, who has been shortlisted for a few senior coaching gigs over the past couple of years as better candidates because they’ve been around the coaching caper post-footy for a long time now and they would’ve taken a lot out of their tenures as assistants from other clubs.

Regardless of what you think of the Giants and regardless of where they finish season 2022 from here. I believe this team, for all the talented players they still have on the list, is still good enough to be competing for finals and even if they finish in the bottom six this year. I don’t think a low finish in 2022 is a sign of things to come, not in the next few years at least.

But whoever the next coach is of this football club, those in charge of appointing the him must nail this Otherwise, they could potentially risk going even further back down the line.

 

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