In this six-part series, The Inner Sanctum in conjunction with the GIANTS, chat with the club’s inaugural players. The men share everything from their first experience at the GIANTS, all the way through to what they hope is in store for the club’s future.
Stephen Coniglio walked into the GIANTS as one of the new teenagers, hoping to get his big break in the AFL and experience what normality was when you were drafted as an Aussie Rules player at the professional level.
Naïve and young, the 17- and 18-year-olds thought that the starting conditions at the GIANTS were “normal”.
“For a lot of the teenagers, it was all we knew. We hadn’t played AFL before, we obviously came through some different pathways, but it was our first proper look into the AFL,” Coniglio told The Inner Sanctum.
“We were living in Breakfast Point all together, on top of each other really at times. Then driving to training every day to Blacktown, driving the hour in traffic, we all thought that was normal.”
It was fun though for a bunch of teenage boys, who still despite the conditions were training hard.
“Our first pre-season was so challenging, but just as exciting. We definitely enjoyed every minute we could. Once the guys got over the homesickness and nested right into Sydney, it was a fun and enjoyable place to be around that’s for sure.”
It didn’t take long at all for the bunch of kids to grow up, learn from some of the experienced players among their team and take their side to the 2019 grand final.
Unfortunately for Coniglio, who was such a pivotal part of the growth of the GIANTS, he was forced to sit out of the 2019 finals series after narrowly avoiding an ACL injury, but still tearing the cartilage in his left knee that had sidelined for the season.
This meant sitting in the stands, as his side competed in the grand final loss against Richmond.
In a true testament to his attitude, Coniglio reflected on how the grand final will still remain one of his proudest moments for himself and for all those involved in the 2019 team.
“It was a really proud moment, more for the fact that two, three weeks our from the finals series we weren’t even meant to make it, let alone reach the grand final,” he said.
“I couldn’t be prouder of that team, we had so many guys injured that year, our form wasn’t great, but we had so much belief.
“I’ve never seen a group come together so much in that final series, it was just so incredible.
“For a first time in a long time, people stood up and noticed us, fans from outside of the GIANTS. We were gaining respect for the work we did, and it’s because of that, that it’s a very proud moment for me.”
Following his outstanding season on 2019, Coniglio was given the captaincy role of the GIANTS for 2020, taking over from co-captains Phil Davis and Callan Ward who had led the side since 2012.
“It was a really proud moment. To be captain of a club is not something a lot of people get to do,” he said.
“I’m fortunate that I had Callan and Phil to learn under for a long time, and they did an incredible job at captaining the side.
“I think the transition was smooth, although the year we had last year. I’m very much looking forward to the year ahead and making amends for some of last year.”
Those ‘amends’ to make very include getting the GIANTS back to being a top eight side, and eventually claiming the side’s first grand final win.
Personally, for Coniglio, it meant returning back to his 2019 17 Brownlow votes, 24 disposal average, 15 goals for the season form.
It also meant not having to endure another week on the sidelines for being omitted.
“When Leon decided to drop me, I wanted to make sure that on the team sheet [it said omitted],” he said.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, what role you have, if you’re a senior player or a club legend, everyone is going to go through a down in their career and I just wanted it to be known.
“I think sometimes things can be swept under the carpet, but I don’t want to be a captain that represents that.”
More importantly for Coniglio, it’s being a foundation GIANTS player that’s extra special for him, and despite the things he has been able to achieve for the GIANTS, is one of the reasons he has always remained in the orange and charcoal.
“It’s been an incredible journey, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, maybe other than having a couple of premierships by now.
“I grew up in West Coast, barracking for West Coast and wanting to play for West Coast but I truly believe that everything happens for a reason.
“To play for a brand-new club in its very first year and to be able to say you’re a foundation player and to be able to build from the start was something that appealed to me and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Coniglio looks forward to 2021 with optimism that his side does have what it takes to play in September.
It was a “long off-season” for the GIANTS, who didn’t play finals for the first time in five years.
Coniglio said it hurt his side and himself to have to experience the emotions at the conclusion of the season but have put themselves through a tough off-season to return to form.
“The application and the attitude of the team to train and to come back (to form), has been a really good start and we’re really looking forward to this year.”
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