The Giants of Sydney’s greater west vaunt an embarrassment of raw midfield talent. Take out the Stingrays of Melbourne’s south east and they’d just have an embarrassing midfield. The names Shiel, Whitfield, Treloar and Scully make up the cream of the Dandenong Stingrays alumni that run through the Giants’ midfield, and their production has been immense. Along with these names, Tomas Bugg (Gippsland) and Devon Smith (Geelong) also formed a strong midfield at Vic Country. These players constitute a fraction under 30 percent of the possession total for GWS in season 2013. Perhaps more significantly, this production is almost mirrored with 26 of the team’s 91 goals astoundingly coming from the Dandenong crew.
In fact, take out the prodigious Jeremy Cameron’s scoring contribution and this group accounts for almost 40% percent of total team scores. Five of these players are in the club’s top 10 disposal gatherers, and their output is reflected in other critical areas such as clearances and uncontested possessions. Just for good measure and to show that the Stingrays boys share, two of GWS’ top three score assist leaders are from, yes, you guessed it, that list.
Coincidence? Dylan Shiel doesn’t think so.
“Coming through with those team mates, the likes of Devon [Smith], Adam [Treloar] and Buggy [Tomas Bugg], who I attended Caulfield Grammar with too, has been big. It’s certainly helped,” he said. “Having an understanding of each other, and what it required to be an elite junior footballer, training and playing together, it has certainty carried through in the first part of our AFL careers. I guess it’s the same now, we’re always pushing that same ethic that we established in the TAC system, and we can hold ourselves to those standards.”
Shiel’s output at the Stingray’s was elite by anyone’s standards, tallying an average of 30 disposals a game, 10 handball receives, and a TAC Cup leading 13 contested possessions per match. This rare inside outside ability and balance characterised a promising first season for Shiel as a Giant, which reached its zenith in round ten against the Cats in a 20 plus possession, two-goal display, earning him a NAB Rising Star nomination.
Shiel possessed a devastating kick as a junior, yet he currently sits 16th in the AFL for handballs in 2013, sandwiched by Scott Pendlebury and childhood idol Chris Judd. “It’s not a conscience effort…a lot of things could be contributing to that. A main one being confidence. With the increased pressure and at times lack of options with a young team, the ability of teams to pressurize and shut down our space can contribute to that,” he said. “I’m trying to run with the ball and be more creative, instead of blazing away. The opposition can defend and pick that off easily and then create scores. We’re getting better at that.”
His proudest moment in footy was the clubs foundational victory over the Gold Coast last season and acknowledges his first run on the MCG in AFL competition as cherished and defining moment. “It’s a challenge coming from Melbourne, the heart of footy, to western Sydney were it was non-existent in a sense,’’ he said. “We are making a difference and making things happen, not just in western Sydney, but in Canberra and throughout New South Wales.”
Talk of a third Sydney team roused by the beloved and increasingly loony Kevin Sheedy drew a chuckle from Shiel, who diplomatically conceded that, “If Kevin thinks so, it’s possible.” But making room in an already overcrowded market was perhaps Sheedy’s most comical postulation of late and Shiel knows the progress will be slow, but also very worthwhile.
The Giants fast track up the AFL ladder and toward sustained success rests heavily on the likes of Shiel and his fellow ex Stingrays midfield brigade. And after suffering from poor public perception post the sphere of Irwin, the boys from Dandenong could not be doing more for the plight of the Stingray.