It was one of the most divisive selection calls of the 2020 AFL premiership, and new behind-the-scenes footage shows the heartbreaking aftermath.
It was one of the most divisive selection calls of the 2020 premiership.
With GWS desperate for a victory against Melbourne to clinch a finals spot, captain Stephen Coniglio was dropped from the side’s 22.
Giants coach Leon Cameron wanted his players to understand nobody was immune — and Coniglio’s output on the field throughout the season simply wasn’t up to standard.
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Amazon docu-series Making Their Mark provides footy fans with a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the chaotic 2020 AFL season — everything from boardroom debates to locker room blow-ups is explored in the seven-part series.
And the production’s cameras captured the heartbreaking moment Cameron informed Coniglio he wouldn’t be playing against the Demons.
“I’m not going to play you his week,” Cameron tells a stunned Coniglio. “We had a good discussion with match committee — you’re just out of form.
“I don’t take that lightly. This is a really, really hard decision. Really hard one. But mate, just the output at the moment is just not there.
“So absorbing this conversation and me delivering it to you is pretty bloody God-damn hard. And we’re going into a cutthroat game this week. But I have to make this decision, Cogs.
“The cold hard facts internally — out of form, need to get back in form and lead the charge. That’s what I need from you.”
Coniglio is visibly shattered. He would become the first full-time skipper to be omitted from an AFL side since West Coast great John Worsfold, who suffered the same fate in 1998.
The 27-year-old is consoled by veteran teammate Heath Shaw, later breaking down in his hotel bedroom.
He helplessly watches on from the sidelines as his teammates falter, suffering an agonising five-point defeat at the Gabba.
It wasn’t the first time Coniglio had been dropped — albeit never as captain — but he conceded the shock setback took a while to process.
“At the time, and especially with the environment we were in, it was obviously very difficult, very challenging,” Coniglio told news.com.au.
“I’ve been very blessed in my career to have many ups and downs — this was definitely a down.
“Overcoming adversity is something I’d always thrived on … reflecting on it, it was a tough time, but it’s very much behind me.”
Heading into the 2020 season, Coniglio had signed a mammoth seven-year contract with the Giants, rumoured to be worth close to $7 million.
The midfielder had also been named the club’s first stand-alone captain, taking over from experienced duo Callan Ward and Phil Davis.
But the coronavirus outbreak inevitably threw a spanner in the works, creating additional hurdles for the first-time skipper.
When AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan announced the competition would go into lockdown, Coniglio travelled to Perth to spend time with his family.
As the sport grappled with how it would financially recover from the pandemic, Coniglio’s focus was purely on the safety of loved ones.
“We love sport and AFL — that’s our profession, it’s what we do,” he said. “But in an unusual and very uncertain time in all of our lives, the most important thing for me when the announcement was made was the safety and welfare of my family and loved ones.
“Being away from them is always difficult, especially in a time like this.
“But I have an incredible support base because of them. I’m very lucky.”
Ahead of the competition’s highly-anticipated return in June, players were permitted to only train in groups of eight.
Strict biosecurity protocols and the dreaded “bubble” kept the athletes secluded for several months, and the condensed schedule meant there was significantly less time to prepare for games.
“For me as a captain, it was really challenging and difficult trying to get your head around not being able to do certain things,” Coniglio said.
“Usually we’d have a week to prepare (for games), but they were coming thick and fast every three, four or five days.
“There was a lot of challenges, definitely more than a normal season, but there’s nothing better than us all being together.”
Following a successful 2019 campaign for the Giants — during which the Sydney-based club qualified for their first Grand Final — there were high hopes the men in orange could once again push their case as premiership contenders.
But Cameron’s men repeatedly lost their composure during pivotal games, ultimately finishing in 10th spot on the ladder and missing a finals campaign for the first time since 2015.
“Especially when things aren’t going well — as was the case last year — we kept digging ourselves into a hole, which wasn’t ideal, and it kind of played out that way for the rest of our season,” Coniglio said.
“We played four finals series in a row, and then to not make it last year was incredibly disappointing.
“It was a challenging year for more than just the Giants — although it was difficult, we have to learn from it and bounce back.”
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The recent off-season proved problematic for the Giants as well, losing a cluster of high-profile players in the trade period.
Jeremy Cameron, Aidan Corr and Zac Williams, who collectively played 382 AFL games for the club, will represent rivals in 2021.
“They’ve been amazing servants for the club — Jeremy in particular being probably our best player in the history of the club,” Coniglio said.
“It was incredibly disappointing — I loved having them as teammates.
“I wish them all the best, but obviously wish they were still my teammates.”
The Giants will take on St Kilda for their season opener at Spotless Stadium on Sunday, March 21st.
“We’re full of optimism at the moment,” Coniglio said. “We definitely had to put last year behind us, but take forward what we actually learnt from it.
“I’ve been really proud of the work we’ve put in over the off-season.
“We just want to get as many wins as possible. Simple as that.”
Making Their Mark is currently available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.