After a disappointing 2020 and the departure of some top talent there was an expectation ahead of this season that the GIANTS would need time to reset before re-launching.
Yet the GIANTS overcame a 0-3 start, a season riddled with injuries and limited availability from their prized recruits to surge late in the season and reach a semi-final.
That they achieved that while living on the road for more than 10 weeks and playing five 'home' games away from Sydney and Canberra made it all the more impressive, even if there will be frustration over summer that suspension and injuries ultimately impacted on how their season ended.
After some early season woes the GIANTS tweaked their midfield mix to bring Callan Ward and Josh Kelly back into onball roles and selected Shane Mumford as much as possible. The continued improvement of Jacob Hopper and Tim Taranto also ensured the midfield was a strength and the GIANTS ranked fourth for clearances (averaging 37.1), fifth for contested ball (139.3) and turned scoring from stoppages into a significant weapon.
An inexperienced backline led by Nick Haynes and built around Sam Taylor mostly held up even as players regularly went down with injury. Lachie Ash, Isaac Cumming, Connor Idun and Jack Buckley emerged to become key players alongside Lachie Whitfield and Harry Perryman.
A luckless run with injuries meant the GIANTS had a mere four players appear in every match and only another five that missed four games or fewer. That at least gave more opportunities to young GIANTS and only rebuilding North Melbourne got more games into their players aged 23 or under.
The unsettled lineups were at least partly to blame for the GIANTS' inconsistencies as they only won consecutive matches twice until a late-season surge of four victories. Rousing wins over Melbourne, Geelong and Sydney (twice) were countered by shock losses to lowly Hawthorn and Gold Coast, and a draw with the Kangaroos.
A forward line learning to live without Jeremy Cameron ranked 17th for marks inside 50 (averaging 9.7) with Harry Himmelberg and Toby Greene the only regular and reliable targets.
He might not win the club champion award but Toby Greene was clearly the GIANTS' most influential player. With 45 goals in 18 matches the superstar forward kicked the fifth-most goals a game (2.5), and topped the League for average score involvements (8.3). Greene was also an inspiration as stand-in skipper in 14 matches, selected in the Therabody AFL All-Australian team, and a regular focus for acclaim and controversy.
In 10 matches across four years at the GIANTS there was little suggestion that Isaac Cumming would become an integral part of a rejuvenated backline, but he did just that in a breakout season. The Academy-product with sublime foot skills played every match and got better as the season went on. Cumming’s standout performance came in the stirring victory over Geelong in round 21 (34 disposals, 18 rebounds) and he then added more intercept marks to his game with a career-high of six in each of the next two rounds.
Stephen Coniglio hoped to rediscover his best form after a knee injury ended his 2019 season early and he struggled for form last year, but the 27-year-old was struck down by further injury in round three that all but ruined his season. The GIANTS’ captain had little impact when he finally returned, averaging only eight effective disposals in the three late-season matches he started, and will now be desperate to have a strong pre-season heading into 2022.
The GIANTS' late-season push for finals looked set to collapse as they had a five-day break then had to make eight forced changes for their clash with Geelong at GMHBA Stadium in . But the GIANTS are often at their best with backs to the wall and a team with an average age of 23 years and two months burst out with four goals to one in the opening term. They survived a Cats' comeback in the final term to steady and win by 19 points with Toby Greene the star as he kicked four goals.
A one-point victory over crosstown rivals Sydney in an elimination final should be a highlight of the GIANTS' 10-season existence let alone just this year. But it was soured by Toby Greene bumping into an umpire while he disputed an earlier decision and made his way to the three-quarter time huddle. Greene was suspended for three matches, and possibly more, for making intentional contact with the umpire and was a costly loss a few days later as the GIANTS were bundled out by Geelong in a semi-final.
How should they approach list management?
The GIANTS look set to enter the Trade Period without the threat of key personnel leaving and with two top-12 draft picks in hand, including pick No.2, might even strengthen their list.
A key forward should be a priority as prized recruit Jesse Hogan was only able to overcome his ongoing injury concerns enough to play nine matches, while Jake Riccardi is out of contract and might look for more opportunities elsewhere.
The GIANTS could also look to bolster their key defender depth as out-of-contract Phil Davis enters the twilight of his career, and Jack Buckley and Lachie Keeffe recover from torn ACLs.
Early call for 2022
With a strong and skilled midfield, new-found depth after an injury-hit season and one of the most inspirational players in the competition in Toby Greene perhaps taking on the captaincy, the GIANTS should be aiming to push into top-four contention.
7 out of 10. The GIANTS exceeded expectations under some of the most trying on-field and off-field circumstances so should be proud of their season and have high hopes for what is to come.