Watched Amazon Prime’s Making Their Mark docu-series, finished the last episode last night. Some clubs and personalities come off well, others don’t, but I have to get right to the point and say it: what a damning indictment on the culture at the Greater Western Sydney Giants.
Stephen Coniglio is made the club’s first-ever solo captain in awful circumstances, some unexpected, some totally foreseeable:
- The Giants lost the 2019 Grand Final. They didn’t just lose it. They were comprehensively destroyed, kicking not only the lowest score for a Grand Final for 60 years, but their lowest ever for their club.
- It was this backdrop, with this kind of hurt in the playing group, that Coniglio is elevated to sole captain, replacing Ward and Davis. Nobody had ever captained this team alone.
- The COVID-19 pandemic strikes, forcing first an initial abandonment of the season then a forced interstate relocation for entire football departments and their respective families.
- The Giants struggle to perform on the field for a myriad of reasons.
- Coniglio struggles with form, despite preparing well he seems to suffer mentally.
- The playing group and coaching staff then proceed to almost completely isolate him. With the exception of Heath Shaw, his mate, and some bullshit “motivational” platitudes thrown at him by Leon Cameron and the rest of the GWS coaching staff, at no time does the film show any kind of assistance or outside help given to Coniglio to help him establish his leadership over the group, or even just to check on the bloke’s mental health.
- They then DROP THEIR CAPTAIN, the first time in over 20 years an AFL club had done so. Much was said at the time, and a perspective could be argued that Leon Cameron was using a strong message to try and shock his group into form, but WHERE WAS THE ARM AROUND THE BLOKE AFTERWARDS? (except for Shaw).
So looking at the list of events above, (1) the club didn’t expect to lose like they did in 2019 but surely the mental difficulties of the overall group, and a newly elevated sole captain (2), were as plain as fucking day. Compounded by the unforeseen COVID pandemic (3), the group suffers (4). Again, completely foreseeable issue. Richmond were smart enough to not only tell their players how resilient they were, but to check it was so continually throughout the year, enabling the team to weather many embarrassing off-field dramas and claim the premiership. And watching this documentary it’s obvious now why they did it. Because they supported each other in a way GWS did not. They didn’t rely on bullshit motivational sayings and sporting clichés. They got around each other, even as they sometimes bickered internally.
The treatment of Coniglio had me screaming at the screen. Not since Ryan Griffen in 2014 at the Bulldogs has a club so absolutely missed the mark with their leadership. Now, I understand that the documentary is edited, and a camera can only capture so much, but the distinct impression was that of a bloke completely hung out to dry in every sense of the word.
Now it’s here I make a non-disclaimer-disclaimer: I am a fierce Bulldogs fans, have absolutely hated GWS since their very inception, almost as a matter of course and as such, I am biased.
However I hate the Adelaide Crows with even more venom and history, and came out of this documentary thinking what a remarkable team they put out last year: continually smashed on-field, worst match day results of the club’s history, but the group stayed positive and grew from it. Rory Sloane comes off looking like future senior coach material. Stuart Dew and the Gold Coast Suns also come off a poor-performing season with positivity and togetherness: never even played a final in their club’s history, yet they are there for each other, as Dew, having — ahem! (how do I put this?) — lost the physical conditioning he had as a premiership player — nevertheless gets on an indoor bike on Zwift and tries an Everesting challenge: he has no chance of coming close, but does it purely to bond with his players.
So whilst my GWS-hatred is strong and true, it just infuriated me seeing a guy go through what Coniglio went through. As a kid, Leon Cameron was one of my childhood heroes when he played for the Dogs between 1990–99. I still have his autographed footy card. In this documentary he looked like a totally unfeeling leader of young men, lacking much in empathy and insight into the blokes he’s in charge of. The closing shots of Coniglio sitting alone in the weights room post-season, a metaphor for a bloke wanting to put the season behind him and grow from the experience, but doing it completely alone, will likely stay with me for years. No wonder blokes like Jeremy Cameron got the fuck out of there, and he certainly wasn’t alone.