GWS Giants players Tim Taranto, Nick Haynes, Jeremy Cameron, Phil Davis, Harry Himmelberg, Matt de Boer and Jacob Hopper. Picture: Phil Hillyard
GWS Giants players Tim Taranto, Nick Haynes, Jeremy Cameron, Phil Davis, Harry Himmelberg, Matt de Boer and Jacob Hopper. Picture: Phil Hillyard

Why Giants will have last laugh on Eddie

Eddie McGuire once labelled Western Sydney "the land of the falafel", but on Saturday night he could end up being the meat in the kebab.

The Collingwood president famously pigeon-holed the Giants as a bunch of 17-year-olds "who'll be sick of living" in Australia's most culturally diverse city playing in front of small crowds.

The provocative comments, which infuriated GWS officials and multicultural figures alike, set the tone for continuing rhetoric out of Melbourne that the Giants are a manufactured and artificial team full of players who can't wait to come off contract and leave.

But not only have the Giants' cornerstone stars led by Stephen Coniglio, Josh Kelly and Jeremy Cameron continued to re-sign, they have immersed themselves in the so called "land of the Falafel."

 

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Ali Faraj, the Giants' head of community, says that while people get fixated on the 12,000 crowds forecast by Eddie, he can say first hand - born and bred in Auburn - that there is clear evidence from the coalface that GWS are infiltrating the hearts and minds of Sydney's golden west.

"I was near Flemington markets after we won the semi-final against the Western Bulldogs and I walked into a petrol station and there was a guy from a Chinese background behind the register," said Faraj.

"He saw me in my Giants polo and says, 'You guys had a great win, how do you think you'll go against Brisbane?'.

"A few years ago you never would have thought that would happen. People used to ask me if I worked for a soccer or a basketball team or they'd see (sponsor) Virgin on the sleeve and ask, 'Do you work for Virgin?'.

"We think it's all about 50,000 people coming to a game, but these are the little success stories. The actual awareness of the team and the code has increased I'd say 10-fold from where it started in western Sydney."

 

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Giants head of community Ali Faraj with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Stephen Coniglio. Picture: Sam Cotton
Giants head of community Ali Faraj with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Stephen Coniglio. Picture: Sam Cotton

 

Foundation Giants' official Craig Lambert says those still calling GWS "artificial" do so at their peril.

"Some of my mates in Melbourne still call the Giants a fabricated team. Mate, how can you even say that when you haven't even known what a lot of them have gone through?" he said.

"For them to still be together says a lot about the club."

The key point being the players who supposedly wouldn't be able to stand living in the alien "Land of the Falafel" have been the driving force in spreading the word.

Coniglio spent last Christmas delivering meals to disadvantaged migrant communities from Bankstown to Cabramatta, indigenous stars Zac Williams, Jeremy Finlayson and Ian Hill have connected with Aboriginal residents around Blacktown, and Adam Tomlinson has immersed himself in work with Ronald McDonald House at Westmead.

GWS hosts Ramadan Iftar meals at the club, where punters mix freely with players and citizenship ceremonies before games, while Faraj taught himself how to handball so the next generation of Vietnamese and Lebanese kids could learn too.

From Campbelltown to Fairfield, to Parramatta and out to the Hawkesbury, Faraj and the Giants roam.

"I'm born and bred in western Sydney. This has given us an opportunity for kids in the west and families in the west to say, 'You know what, football can be an option that my son or your girl can aspire to one day play at the elite level'. And that's the beauty of the club," said Faraj.