The formation of Greater Western Sydney for the 2012 season represented the greatest gamble yet taken by the AFL. For the new franchise was to be based in rugby league’s heartland - at Blacktown Sports Park in Rooty Hill - a million metaphorical miles from the Sydney Swans’ base in the leafy east.
To help drum up publicity for the club in this AFL outpost, the league went down the ‘high-profile rugby league recruit’ path and tempted Brisbane Bronco Israel Folau into swapping codes with a massive offer of around $6 million over four years.
As with Karmichael Hunt the previous season at Gold Coast, the publicity generated by Folau’s recruitment was enormous - even if the league convert struggled to make much of an impact on the field.
Perhaps the club’s biggest recruiting coup, though, involved four-time Essendon premiership coach Kevin Sheedy who was appointed as head coach - with Port Adelaide ex-supremo Mark Williams as his deputy.
While the new franchise was able to take advantage of draft concessions by snaring five uncontracted players from other clubs - Phil Davis (Adelaide), Callan Ward and Sam Reid (Western Bulldogs), Rhys Palmer (Fremantle) and Tom Scully (Melbourne) - the job for Sheedy and Williams in the first couple of seasons was essentially going to be a teaching one.
Most of the playing list were young, lean and raw, GWS having been provided with similar recruiting concessions as Gold Coast the season before. Understanding this, the club took the unusual step of recruiting four recently retired players - Melbourne captain in 2010, James McDonald, Brisbane veteran Luke Power and Port Adelaide pair, ruckman Dean Brogan and midfielder Chad Cornes - to bolster the stocks of experienced campaigners. They were also to form part of the assistant coaching staff.
Before entering the AFL, the club played in the TAC Cup in 2010 and North East Australian Football League in 2011, as well as the 2011 and 2012 AFL pre-season tournaments, and the 2011 Foxtel Cup.
The Giants were given the honour of starting the 2012 AFL season - in a match at ANZ Stadium against new cross-town rivals, Sydney - and showed encouraging signs despite a 63-point defeat. Their second outing, though, was a horror show, being beaten by North Melbourne by 129 points in Hobart, a result that underlined the magnitude of the task facing Sheedy and the fledgling club.
Edited Wikipedia entry
The idea of an AFL team from western Sydney originated from the AFL's plans in 1999 to make the North Melbourne Football Club (known then simply as the Kangaroos) Sydney's second team. Following the momentum of the relocated Swans Grand Final appearance, the AFL had backed the move for North Melbourne, a club which had then previously gained market exposure by defeating the Swans in their first re-location Grand Final appearance. However the venture was unsuccessful and after several games a season North Melbourne never managed to draw crowds of over 15,000 at the Sydney Cricket Ground before finally leaving the market and experimenting with Canberra and later the Gold Coast.
The AFL's interest in the Western Sydney market appeared to be rekindled after the Sydney Swans' second, more successful Grand Final appearance in 2005, which started grassroots interest in the game in the highly populous region. In 2006, the AFL introduced the NSW Scholarships scheme, primarily aimed at juniors in West Sydney market to foster home grown talent and produce AFL players, a region which despite its large and growing population, had produced few professional Australian rules footballers.
The AFL was buoyed in 2006 when it gained the support of then NSW premier Morris Iemma and the league became a partner in the Blacktown sporting facility in Rooty Hill, New South Wales. The facility was announced as the new home base for its team out of western Sydney in 2007; it announced that it had planned to grant its 18th licence in mid to late 2008.
It was reported that in January 2008, the AFL officially registered the business name Western Sydney Football Club Ltd with ASIC.
In March 2008, it was revealed by the media that the AFL had considered a radical proposal to launch an Irish-dominated team in Sydney's western suburbs, which would perform before an international audience under the "Celtic" brand name. The "Sydney Celtics" plan was first put to AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou in early 2007 by Gaelic Players Association executive Donal O'Neill. It was said that the proposal originated at the International Rules series in Ireland in late 2006 when O'Neill put forward a plan to purchase an AFL licence in Sydney. However, the AFL has since stated that this is unlikely to be a serious option.
In March 2008, the AFL won the support of the league's 16 club presidents to establish an eighteenth side in Western Sydney.
The Western Sydney working party devising player rules and draft concessions for the second Sydney team met on 22 July 2008.
During 2008, the AFL Commission, whose agenda was to make a final decision on the Western Sydney Football Club, delayed it on multiple occasions. During the same year, in November, the AFL announced a A$100 million venture for a boutique stadium at the Sydney Showgrounds in Homebush, in the city's west.
After a third meeting in Sydney in November, the AFL cited the Economic crisis of 2008 as being a key factor in the delays. While the AFL reiterated its stance on the Western Sydney licence, the commission admitted that the delay in the decision was due to financial remodeling of the bid in response to the crisis, and conceded that the debut of the team in the AFL may eventuate one or more seasons later than initially suggested. The expansion licence drew increasing media skepticism and public criticism, particularly in the light of a poor finals attendance in Sydney, declining Sydney Swans attendances and memberships, the economic crisis and the Tasmanian AFL Bid which had gained significant momentum and public support during 2008. An Australian Senate enquiry in to the Tasmanian AFL Bid concluded that Sydney had "insurmountable cultural barriers" to the establishment of a second AFL team.
In May 2009, AIS/AFL Academy coach Alan McConnell was appointed as the club's high performance manager. McConnell was the first full-time appointment for GWS and his new role commenced on 1 July 2009. Kevin Sheedy was appointed inaugural coach in November 2009, signing a three-year contract. His role commenced on 2 February 2010.
In November 2010, Skoda Australia was announced as the team's first major sponsor, signing a three-year contract which includes naming rights to the team's home ground at the Sydney Showground.
Greater Western Sydney were provided with similar recruitment entitlements to the Gold Coast who had entered the AFL the year before the Giants. Key differences included that their access to a uncontracted player from each other AFL club was able to be acted on in either 2011 or 2012. The club was also allocated the ability to trade up to four selections in a "mini-draft" of players born between January and April 1994, that would otherwise not be eligible to be drafted until the 2012 AFL Draft. They also were given the first selection in each round of the 2011 AFL Draft as well as selections 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13 and 15 in the first round of the draft.
The 2011 Trade Week saw the Giants take part in nine trades, involving two selections in the mini-draft as well trading away players who had previously nominated for the draft in return for additional early draft selections in the 2011 AFL Draft, that resulted in them holding the first five draft selections and 11 of the first 14.
During the 2011 season, there was constant speculation about which uncontracted players would sign with the Giants. In August 2011, Adelaide defender Phil Davis became the first player to announce that he would sign with the new club. During 2011, four more AFL listed players announced they would be playing for the Giants in 2012 - Bulldogs midfielders Callan Ward and Sam Reid, Fremantle midfielder Rhys Palmer and Melbourne midfielder Tom Scully. Former Melbourne captain James McDonald, Brisbane veteran Luke Power and Port Adelaide ruckman Dean Brogan and midfielder Chad Cornes announced they will be coming out of retirement to play for the Giants in 2012. McDonald and Power took on roles of playing Assistant Coaches.
The Giants are expected to play four games a year at Manuka Oval (three regular season, one preseason) for the first ten years after signing a deal with the ACT Government worth $23 million. A Canberra logo will be incorporated on its guernsey, with a separate Canberra guernsey being used for games at Manuka. A GWS-ACT Academy is also intended to be created, with the territory also gaining representation on the club's board.
On 16th November 2010, Greater Western Sydney announced their club guernseys and their nickname of the "Giants".
The team colours are orange, charcoal and white, with the club unveiling two prospective home jumpers for next year to be decided by fans. One is orange with a large, stylised "G" in the centre and charcoal strips on the sides, with the other featuring orange in the top half and a white "G" wrapped around charcoal colours in the bottom half. The colour of the team's shorts is charcoal and their socks are orange. Their away guernsey features sky blue and white. During the 2011 season a clash guernsey was unveiled. The jumper has a light grey background with a charcoal rendition of the home jumper's G on the chest. The team motto is Think Big. Live Big. Play Big. Their mascot G-Man was unveiled on 18th February 2012 before the team took the ground for their first NAB Cup match of that year.
The team song "There's A Big Big Sound" was first unveiled to the foundation members and 2012 members on 16th February 2012 via a phone call, the following day the team song was released to the public. The song was written and produced by award-winning Australian artist Harry Angus of Australian band The Cat Empire.
The 2012 season saw the club making its AFL debut with a match against locals rivals Sydney which the Swans won by 63 points. This was a prelude to a difficult year which produced just a couple of wins, against Gold Coast in round seven and Port Adelaide in round nineteen, leading inevitably to the wooden spoon. In 2013 this result was repeated, albeit with 1 win fewer than the previous year.
The Giants’ inaugural coach was former Essendon supremo Kevin Sheedy, with Port Adelaide’s 2004 premiership coach Mark Williams serving as his deputy. Although initial results were disappointing, in hindsight it can be seen that the pair were instrumental in providing the club with a solid platform for future success. Young players blooded in 2011 and 2012 would go on to make sizeable contributions to the Giants’ rise up the ladder in subsequent seasons. In 2013 they avoided the wooden spoon for the first time and their overall tally of 6 wins for the year included their first 3 away from home. A year later they began to serve notice that the days of other teams taking them lightly were numbered. It was not just the number of wins (11) but the ruthlessly efficient style with which many of them were achieved, attributes which were even more consistently in evidence during a 2016 season which saw them fall just a single game and a solitary straight kick adrift of qualification for the grand final. A year later they again got as far as a preliminary final only to lose, this time to eventual premiers Richmond. If anything the disappointment was more intense on this occasion as expectations were higher. This was followed by a finals exit at the semi final stage in 2018. A year later the Giants made it through to a grand final showdown with Richmond only to succumb with uncharacteristic meekness by an 89 point margin. A disappointing 2020 campaign followed which saw the side fail to make the finals, ultimately finishing 10th.
The AFL’s choice of the western suburbs of Sydney as their latest expansion locale was either extremely foolhardy or audaciously inspired. Football had no real presence in what was arguably the world’s most vehemently ardent rugby league hotbed but the AFL was determined to establish a long term foothold there. The logic of the move was patently obvious: western Sydney already had a sizeable population, and even more to the point it was growing fast meaning that its identity was by no means fixed. Given that, why should footy not form a significant part of that evolving character? In other words, why should not the region’s growth and development be mirrored by the growth and development of the Australian code.
If the experiment fails it will not be for lack of dollars and cents with the club’s survival dependent not on bums on seats at matches but on the AFL’s largesse, a fact that other clubs, particularly some of those in Melbourne, understandably resent. If the current rate of progress is maintained, however, the Giants could end up surprising even themselves with how soon they are capable of standing on their own two feet.
Until 2019 Greater Western Sydney field what was effectively a reserve grade team in the North East Australian Football League. This team, known as Western Sydney University, or more commonly simply as Giants, claimed a premiership in 2016 when they accounted for Sydney reserves in the grand final by 4 points, 11.16 (82) to 11.12 (78). After spending the 2020 season in recess because of the coronavirus pandemic the Giants reserves commenced in the VFL in 2021.