First-year GIANTS VFL coach Wayne Cripps says the foundations have been laid and believes there’s a bright future for his program and the club following a successful season of development.
Possessing one of the youngest lists in the competition, the GIANTS’ VFL side held its own for much of the 2023 season to finish a game outside of the Wildcard Round and narrowly miss the chance of a finals campaign.
Cripps, who joined the GIANTS on a three-year deal to both lead the VFL program and work as a development coach with the AFL side, said he saw the 2023 campaign as a success despite falling short of a finals berth.
“We drafted seven players plus we brought up five boys from the NAB League as well, so there’s 12 players playing their first year of VFL/AFL footy, which is asking a lot of them,” Cripps said.
“So, to finish the year at 9-9 [wins-losses] with the injuries we had through the AFL squad and some of our more experienced VFL players, I think it was a pretty good effort.
“There’s always going to be those problems with a young list with things like inconsistency in performance, but we had some big wins along the way.
“I think 9-9 is probably where we are at considering we went into every week with one of the youngest sides, so I’m pretty happy with how we went.
“We probably didn’t finish the year off as well as we wanted to but there’s a lot of positives to come out of it.”
Cripps, who led the Sandringham Dragons to the Coates Talent League premiership last season, where he worked with the likes of top-five draftees Will Ashcroft and Harry Sheezel, said the development of the youngsters at the GIANTS this season was a huge tick.
“That was the plan, it was all abouts the development space and we were able to blood some players and get some games into young kids,” he said.
“Whilst we didn’t get to make the Wildcard Round or play finals, we don’t see the year as a failure, it’s definitely a success.
“Getting the seven draftees and trying to help with their development, and then with the young VFL-listed players we’ve had, we got to surround them with some really good characters and there was a lot of growth, and they got a lot better as leaders.
“From a professionalism point of view, and from our point of view, they all grew as footballers and that’s a massive win for us.”
Cripps was upbeat about the future of both the VFL and AFL programs at the club, believing there’d be more stability next season after a big year of change.
“I’m excited,” he said.
“From a whole club point of view, ‘Kingers’ [Adam Kingsley] has come in with a new system and so we play a completely different way.
“Even for the older AFL players it’s taken a lot of adjustment and they’ve got better as the year has gone on, and then that’s an even bigger step for some of these younger players to come in and learn an AFL system and professionalism and what it takes.
“So those seven guys we drafted, they’re going to be a lot better off in year two and hopefully some of those boys who made the move [from the NAB League] will stay on and they’re going to be better off too.
“I think it’ll be a lot smoother this preseason because there’ll be a lot less information to take in and we’ll have an opportunity to really hone in on some of their craft and their development.
“With a whole new coaching group that came in, the big focus for the club was to build relationships more so than anything, and we’ve done that.
“So, to be able to come in and have a settled coaching group into pre-season, that’s going to make things a lot easier for us.”
Cripps said he is thoroughly enjoying his time in the orange and charcoal.
“I’ve loved every minute of it,” he said.
“It’s a great bunch of players, both AFL-listed and VFL-listed.
“It was great to see the connection they were able to form between the AFL and the VFL guys and it’s definitely felt like one club.
“I’ve definitely learnt a lot from it and I’m happy with how it went for the first year.”
RECAP OF ROUND 22
In their final game of the season, the GIANTS fell short by 14 points to Geelong at GMHBA Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
After holding a one-point quarter-time lead, the GIANTS were outscored five goals to two in the second period as the Cats took an 18-point buffer into the main break before holding on for a closely fought 14.8 (92) to 11.12 (78) win.
Despite the loss, a number of AFL-listed GIANTS did their cause of senior selection no harm with strong performances.
Zippy onballer James Peatling continued his impressive form with a game-high 29 disposals and eight clearances, to go along with five tackles.
Meanwhile number one pick Aaron Cadman (three goals) has now kicked 14 majors in his last three matches to press his claims for a senior recall on the eve of a potential finals campaign.
Harry Rowston (19 disposals, four clearances), Conor Stone (19 disposals, one goal), and Ryan Angwin (17 disposals, six tackles) also impressed to put themselves into consideration.