A Day at the Footy Like Never Before!

As an expat there is nothing quite like a day at the footy. A chance to watch our great game, get your teeth into a pie and just soak up the embodiment of Australiana. Ah, it is good to be home – even if just for a short while. That is what I was looking forward to when I planned a trip to the AAMI Stadium in Adelaide to see Port host the Greater Western Sydney (GWS) Giants. Well, this day ended up being like none other at the footy. I was given the chance and the privilege to see the game behind the game when I was invited by Kevin Sheedy, GWS Coach and general footy legend, and David Matthews, GWS CEO, to sit in the coaches box and watch the game with coaches and all the energy and hubbub of the inner sanctum.

Both Kevin and David are huge supporters of the USAFL. They have traveled multiple times to our Nationals in their former AFL roles of Game Development. It was a great honor to be invited by them to watch the game from the box.

We got to AAMI Stadium early to get situated and get our tickets – I attended the game with my family and long-time USAFL player and former US Revolution Coach, Dr. Gary Hill. I did have time to snarf down a pie before being shown into the box. I got situated in the corner before the coaches arrived. I got to hang-out for a while with the IT guys. You will be surprised that three of the 10 people in the box were from IT – there is an amazing amount of data that streams into the box including the GPS readings from where every player runs on the field.

"by becoming a Global Giant you will go into the draw to win two tickets to the 2013 Toyota AFL Grand Final, plus a $500 resource pack for the community club of your choice."

The game finally got under way and the coaches stream in to get their positions; last to arrive was Kevin. Kevin was in the front row with Leon Cameron, Senior Assistant Coach (and the man tapped on the shoulder to coach the Giants next year when Kevin steps down) to his right. Then came the three specialty coaches – Forwards, Midfielders and Defenders. In the back row were the IT crew and additional assistant coaches who were all former great players in their own right. My job was to ensure the computer in front of me did not go to sleep as it was linked to the TV in the box that showed all the game stats – It was a huge responsibility that involved me remembering to move the mouse ever so slightly every 5 to 8 minutes.

The game started off well for GWS. They got a few early goals and looked the more energetic side for the first 15 minutes. The mood in the box was positive. The amount of chatter in the box was controlled. Very rarely were multiple people speaking at once. Everyone knew their role. Whippet, the IT guru sitting next to me, would yell out an important stat on queue. Kevin was wearing a headset so he was always connected to the bench.  On occasions he would call for a player coming off to pick up the phone so he could give them a word of encourage or specific direction on how to deal with an opponent. Leon had the phone next to him and would call to the bench as required. There was always energy in the box; but it was controlled – this was a place of intense focus – this was work.

Towards the end of the first quarter Port pegged back a few. At the first break the Giants were in front. The coaches were very happy with the start. As the quarter ended the printers jumped into motion as the stats sheets were printed off for the coaches. They grabbed these as they ran down the race to join the players on the field.

In the second quarter Port woke up and GWS just slowed down a touch. Port jumped into the lead that they would not give up again. The coaches started to make proactive moves to stem the flow of Port goals. While each coach has their own responsibility there were times when all talking would stop and there was a very quick discussion as a coaching group over making a significant move. Once all agreed Leon would pick up the phone and call the bench.

One thing I noticed is how the terms on the modern game have changed. Two that really stuck out; the defensive floater is now called the numerical and kicking long out of the center is now a Surge. And you may as well bring your math degree to the modern game. The focus on numbers is now a critical part of the game. And there a lot of numbers; screens and screens of them. And it seemed like each coach had certain numbers that they preferred. When a coach called for a specific stat they were trying to confirm their intuition of what was occurring on the field. I was left thinking at the end of the game at what point do the numbers actually get in the way and not support the strategy of a team.

Port went onto win but GWS showed great heart in the last quarter and pegged back a few. The second quarter was the difference in the end when Port jumped out in front. But the coaches were still happy, overall, with the game. GWS are a young team in their second season and this is part of the growth. The coaches would very often talk in support of a player that had done something well “great tackle, good vision, great long kick, etc.”. While the players could not hear the specifics were written down and I am sure would be discussed in the upcoming week.  And the coaches would also get disappointed when a player made mistakes – especially when they knew the player could do better. Comments like “we told him in practice he needs to be more aggressive at the ball”. I am equally sure that these indiscretions would also be discussed. Kevin told me after the game that it is all part of the journey of creating a winning football formula.

After the game we went into the rooms to talk to Kevin and attend the post-game press conference. My wife pointed out that I had a huge grin from ear to ear. It was a great experience to be admitted and trusted to be part of the inner sanctum.

Since returning back to States I have been to our local footy practice to get the boys energized for the new season and have become a GWS Global member. When I was talking to the GWS Board members after the game we discussed the natural affinity between the USAFL and the GWS; we are both the new kids on the block and trying the break down barriers within the sport; whether that be in Western Sydney or in the United States. I want to be part of both journeys.

You can be too. It’s only $50 to join up and be part of the action – even if we are a long way away. Become a Global Giant here »

Thanks to Kevin and Dave for a wonderful afternoon at the Footy.

~ Paul "Plugger" O'Keeffe

The GWS Giants have launched their global membership for fans outside of Australia and by becoming a Global Giant you will go into the draw to win two tickets to the 2013 Toyota AFL Grand Final, plus a $500 resource pack for the community club of your choice.
Additionally, the country with the most members will also receive a visit by Giants coach, Kevin Sheedy following the 2013 season (details TBD). Global Giant benefits include exclusive digital content to you weekly during the season before anyone else and a 2013 GIANTS member pack including member card & lanyard, bumper sticker and fixture magnet.

Posted in 
Watch AFL