Giants prove ‘fake club’ jibes are fake news
The Giants have brought down Goliath.
Banned, broken and bruised, the AFL's so-called plastic club showed their bottomless character.
Toby Greene's face was an explosion of emotion on full time as the superstar, who was sensationally suspended for the preliminary final, was given a chance to live out his dream on grand final day following the drama of one of the most bizarre finals games ever played.
Phil Davis, the club's inaugural captain, produced one of the most warrior-like performances ever seen in September, playing through the pain of a dislocated finger in the pre-game, a bung shoulder and most profoundly, a calf he pinged in the first quarter of the game.
Lion-hearted and courageous, Davis played out the match up forward and took a key mark in the midst of Collingwood's final quarter tsunami that proved critical. He is confident he will play the grand final.
Lachie Keefe - a Collingwood reject - replaced the irreplaceable Greene and played the game of his life.
Keefe played on Brody Mihoceck and going into the final stretch, Mihoceck had literally not touched the football the entire day.
Half-back Zac Williams went into midfield to fill in for his best mate Lachie Whitfield, sent for appendix surgery on Wednesday, and the indigenous kid from country NSW was the best on ground.
Most wrote off GWS the moment Greene and freak talent Whitfield were ruled out.
Just like the critics who overwhelmingly foreshadowed GWS missing the finals this year.
Just like those same critics who once they made it, said they were making up the numbers for the playoffs.
Just like the even greater army of naysayers who said a team in rugby league's western Sydney heartland would fall flat on its face.
But in the final quarter when Collingwood swarmed, GWS mustered every ounce of grit that has been ingrained in them ever since they first ran the club out of a back room Rooty Hill RSL, because they had no other home.
Collingwood President Eddie McGuire was one of the most damning voices, yet last night he ventured into the GWS rooms to give credit where it was due.
Only eight years old, GWS proved on the biggest stage and against all the odds that all the 'fake club' jibes are fake news.
"Have a look at that spirit out there today," said Chairman, Tony Shepherd.
"Players like Lachie Keefe come in (for Greene) and play their hearts out and made that game happen.
"That's not artificial. Lachie didn't come out of the AFL academy system. That's a great club. That's a club with true spirit. And truly a spirit that the other 17 clubs aspire to.
"This is the moment we've been waiting for. Lots of injuries, lots of setbacks. Tonight shows we are there. We have arrived.
"We're a young club in foreign country. A grand final after eight years is truly remarkable achievement."
The scenes in the GWS rooms at fulltime were extraordinary.
Every year two teams make the grand final, but it is a rare moment in history when a side gets there for the first time. In GWS's case the people involved on the field and off it have literally built the club from scratch.
"It's surreal. It's been a crazy half an hour (post-match). It's a great atmosphere. I'm just so proud," said GWS's inspiration, Phil Davis.
"We played some amazing footy for 100 minutes and they were unbelievable for 15 minutes, which we expected, and then the last five minutes, just the size of the fight and the heart in the group, I was just really proud of them.
"It was more my back (which was sore). I just hurt my back a bit, and it caused me a few other things. But I'll be fine.
"There was a role for me in the forward line that I thought I sort of did - not really. I was touchless for a while, which was pretty scary, but I just did whatever I could to help the other players.
"I think we've been through some serious hardships - not just this year but all the previous seven years before this year as well. We've been through some ups and downs and that makes you better. We're excited."
DAVIS INJURY STILL TBC
If GWS suspected they had a cursed AFL finals injury record, the sight of Phil Davis limping to the MCG bench in the opening term of Saturday's preliminary final against Collingwood confirmed it.
Having endured the early loss of Callan Ward in 2016's preliminary final and Dylan Shiel in 2017, history looked set to repeat - with their other co-captain the victim.
Davis suffered a dislocated finger, pre-game, appeared to injure his calf early in the game and followed that up with a shoulder complaint.
But unlike previous years, when concussions ended Ward and Shiel's respective preliminary finals, Davis was able to forgeon - albeit out of position and sore - as the Giants fought through to their maiden grand final.
Unfortunately, that momentous victory might well have come at a cost - and GWS could potentially enter their first grand final without either of their co- captains.
That said, it was an individual effort that encapsulated GWS' team resilience. Davis didn't record a disposal in the openinghalf - but, crucially, didn't cost his side with rotations or structure, predominantly playing a role up forward. He was far from the only Giant to step up.
The Giants were already up against it, with Callan Ward, Stephen Coniglio and Brett Deledio on the sidelines. When Lachie Whitfield (appendicitis) and Toby Greene (suspension) joined them, the situation looked dire.
This was only the seventh occasion since Whitfield joined the club that the Giants had fielded a line-up without either heor Greene in the 22. They had lost the previous six times - not this time.
In Whitfield's absence, Zac Williams stood tall, with the dashing half-back stepping up in a standout midfield performance,while Josh Kelly - absent for so much of the season - and Tim Taranto worked hard all day.
Down back, Nick Haynes (30 disposals, nine marks) took Davis' defensive absence on his shoulders - with assistance from Sam Taylor and the resolute Heath Shaw. But when the Magpies were surging late, it was Davis - injuries and all - who went back to plug the hole, including taking one decisive intercept mark. Having seen off the Pies, Davis will race the clock - and GWS' unlikely flag hopes might rest on how he handles that sprint.