AFL Coach’s Clipboard: GWS Giants’ Leon Cameron on Toby Greene, co-captaincy and more
COACH’S CLIPBOARD: GWS coach Leon Cameron goes one-on-one with Marc McGowan to discuss all the topical issues at the Giants ahead of season 2022.
Footy is rarely dull in the Harbour City.
But it’s been particularly dramatic the past two years, with the Giants and Swans spending the second half of last season interstate because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Leon Cameron’s Giants defied that, plus form and injury woes, to book an against-the-odds finals berth and scored a nailbiting win over the Swans once they got there.
There was also major captaincy news since the season ended, and Cameron discusses it all one-on-one with Marc McGowan.
You’ve had a few months to dissect last season. After a very rocky start and some serious bumps in the road, was it a success to make finals and win one, especially over the Swans?
A bit of both. We got to the finals, we won a final, which is great, but the week you get beaten by Geelong, you’re disappointed because you lost. But, look, we made some ground. We had a rough start with some form and injury issues, but I thought towards the backend of the year, we played a brand of footy that was far more consistent. We were up and down a fair bit in that first half of the year, but we got more consistency towards the backend. We all start on the same line (in 2022) and nothing counts for nothing in the end, because it’s a new season.
You were still able to work and do what you love last year, but did everyone underestimate how difficult it was for the Giants and Swans, being on the road for almost three months?
Well, that’s for people to judge. I’m a pretty optimistic sort of a person. Whether you’re week-to-week travelling or not, every year there are going to be challenges. You don’t want to be doing that every year, because it’s not right, but we spent some really good time together. There were challenges because of family, no doubt. Everyone would have had some moments sitting in their hotel room – three or four weeks on the road and then missing family, friends, whatever that may be. But there would have been just as many up moments as down. We got to review games together, train together and eat together. We found a really good balance in doing that. Those last-minute changes were the hardest thing.
We talked a lot about the Giants being a young group last season, but now those same players are a year older and have some finals experience, are the expectations higher?
I’m not into making bold statements. I don’t come out and say, ‘We’re going to do this, this year’, because we know that the competition is so even, it’s on a knife’s edge. You make one wrong move for one weekend and it can cost you a spot in the finals. Hats off to Melbourne and the Bulldogs – they were the two breakaway sides – but it’s such an even competition. We come into every year saying we want to play finals footy and we want to be really hard to play against. We thought we were really hard to play against in the back half of the year, in a more consistent manner. We’re chasing premierships like everyone else. Are we ready to do that? I can’t tell you, because we’re still a young group. But what I will tell you, is that we’re a very enthusiastic group. It’s a totally different list from three years ago, when we played in a grand final. The capabilities of this group over the next two to three years are really, really exciting.
You’ve spoken about how the captaincy took a toll on Stephen Coniglio. How will he fare in the new captaincy set-up and what impact will it have on him, as well as Toby Greene and Josh Kelly?
The hardest thing for Stephen was he couldn’t play a lot last year, because of injury. Any captain or leader of a footy club wants to go and show what he can do on the field, which is his main play. Then when he did come back in; clearly he wasn’t 100 per cent fit. He’s had a faultless pre-season. We’re really rapt with the way he’s progressing. He hasn’t had that for a few years. That added pressure as the sole captain that’s been on his shoulders over the last couple of years is probably going to release a little bit, having Toby and Josh beside him.
Having three captains was a big decision, but I think the three of them are all different and unique, so there are going to be challenges, because they’ll challenge each other. If they all thought the same, then you could say that would be easier, but then you’re not making progress. They’ve had really good pre-seasons and they want to let their footy do the talking, but they know they’ve got a greater responsibility to make sure their cohesion as three captains is spot on among the entire group, so they can lead from the front.
You and I spoke leading into the semi-final about Toby Greene’s incident with umpire Matt Stevic. You mentioned this one was different to his other transgressions and that he had to learn from this one. How will you know if he’s learned?
You can’t know until you actually jump into the future. It’s like trying to judge how you’re going to go in 2022. There’s been a whole lot of learnings from it. I did say that Toby has to learn from this, because Toby cannot find himself in this situation again. Period. Because of two things: one is we know the ramifications of what happened. But two, he’s not playing the first five weeks of the year, on the back of this.
Having one of our best players out in the first five weeks is disappointing and he feels that, so he knows that he’s overstepped the mark. But once we addressed it, we’ve moved on. We’ve hit a whole new, fresh pre-season. He’s in unbelievably good shape. We’re expecting him to knuckle down when he resumes play in Round 6 and learn from the mistakes he’s made. And we all know, this one was a bigger mistake than some of the other ones he’s had.
But he’s a bloody really good person who’s not perfect. I’m not perfect and I’ve supported him so much and I‘ll continue to support him, because I love what he stands for, for our footy club. He also knows he put himself in the wrong situation at the end of last year.
You did factor the Toby Greene situation into your thinking in last year’s trade period and you were keen on Hawks Chad Wingard and Luke Breust. How do you look back at that now, and are you confident enough with your forward line, knowing those bids didn’t come off?
Yeah, we did – but it wasn’t just about the short term. There was talk about some deals and our list management committee were looking at that as well. It’s always really good discussion before, during and after the trade period. There are always stories that will come out and we’re always looking at how we can add value to our list, but that didn’t happen. So, we were really keen to go back to the draft and that’s what we did. We brought in four young kids and Jarrod Brander, who is looking for that second opportunity as a forward from the Eagles. He’s presenting himself really well. He can run, he’s got a good fitness base and he wants to show that he can play one of those spots.
People sometimes tend to forget we missed Brent Daniels for a large period of last year and he’s been an integral part of our team since he arrived. And Bobby Hill, there were some challenges over that trade period. But, he’s got himself in the best shape that he possibly could. We actually haven’t seen Daniels and Hill together for a good chunk, so there is this great opportunity to start the year with Toby not being there.
You mentioned the word challenging with Bobby. It almost became a little bit ugly at times and he wanted to get to Essendon but you stood your ground, because he is contracted. How has that situation progressed and do you think he will try again this year?
Look, in all trade periods, there is a player who wants to be traded or a club wants to trade a player and it doesn’t go through. It’s the initial what happens after that matters and it’s been really positive. There were some challenging conversations but Bobby was contracted and he’s got a lot going on his life. He’s become a father, which we’re absolutely rapt with, for him and Georgia. We love what he can do and feel he’s just starting to scratch the surface. He’s progressing every year he does a pre-season with us and the relationship’s really strong.
Having good, honest conversations after some awkward moments is what good clubs do, and that’s what we did. We speak regularly and he spent the entire summer up until Christmas – until the birth of his child with Georgia – in Perth, training with Matty de Boer. Now he’s back on deck and training at a really good, high standard, looking to launch himself into 2022.
You re-signed for two years in September 2020, so that deal expires at the end of this season. Have negotiations started and is it something you’d like to, ideally, get locked away early?
Contracts are interesting because there’s so much, especially with a senior coach. The answer is, yes, we’ve started to have some dialogue about what that looks like and where that leads to, whether that’s before or during the season. It’s two parties making a decision on each other. I’m coming into my ninth year and I love coaching the footy club. I feel as though I’m progressing as a coach.
Clearly, I’ve got things to work on, like everyone, but I feel as though I add value to our footy club and the club adds value to me, so contracts are a two-way street. You work out, ‘Can that two-way street progress’ and I’d like to think so. But it’s like anything with all these questions we ask – the proof is in the pudding. Someone’s got to be happy with the way I’m coaching and I’ve got to be happy with the way the club’s progressing. But we’re having some really good dialogue, we’re very open – it’s not as if we’re closing up – and we’ll keep people abreast on how we’re progressing.
On the field, we saw the Sydney Derby final and we know you’ll meet again in Round 1. But what is the health of the game like in general in NSW?
It’s definitely coming on in leaps and bounds. For us to have 30,000 members and the Swans to have 60,000 is really exciting, and women’s footy, with the Giants women’s team, is strong. The Swans women’s team is coming in at the end of 2022.
So, footy in general in NSW is starting to become more and more popular. We’ve just now got to have the opportunity to play more, because of the Covid challenges. Having milestone games or big drawing games like our Round 1 game against the Swans is a great idea, because clearly us and the Swans were affected the most, being on the road for the last 11, 12 weeks.
We didn’t have any footy in New South Wales (in that time), so having a big crowd at Accor Stadium, out here at Sydney Olympic Park, is great and no doubt a big-ticket item will be ‘Buddy’ (Lance Franklin) and whether he can kick his 1000th goal. Hopefully, he can’t and Sammy Taylor or Phil Davis can stop that, but if you get a crowd of 50,000 people – Swans and Giants supporters – it just shows the game is in good shape. Even though we’ve been through a rocky 18 months, I think the game in NSW will come out even better.
Originally published as AFL Coach’s Clipboard: GWS Giants’ Leon Cameron on Toby Greene, co-captaincy and more