When the AFL decided to expand the competition and have a club in the western suburbs of Sydney, they hoped a rivalry between the new club and the Sydney Swans would help create interest in the code in the rugby league heartland of Australia.
Until Round 1, 2014 the rivalry had struggled to gain any traction, despite the best efforts of the Greater Western Sydney marketing men and the great Kevin Sheedy, the AFL’s best salesman.
‘The Battle of the Bridge’ as it was hyped up to be by Sheedy got its first real breath of life when the young Giants defeated their cross town rivals for the first time on Saturday afternoon. Now the rivalry has been sparked and could develop into one as fierce as the Western Derby or Showdown in Adelaide. That’s certainly what the AFL is hoping for.
Getting their first taste of victory over the big brother will be a huge boost for the Giants, and more importantly for football in Sydney. There will now be a real interest every time the Giants come up against the Swans with the prospect of competitive matches drawing bigger crowds.
A large part of this developing rivalry can be attributed to inaugural GWS coach Kevin Sheedy. In his time as Essendon coach for two and a half decades Sheedy was not only a master tactician, but someone who had the charisma and aura to advertise and market the game. He was the great salesman of the AFL, never shy of talking it up in the media to try and add a bit of niggle to the game.
While Sheedy may have been past his coaching best when appointed to the helm of the fledgling Giants, there was no doubt he was the man to sell the club and start up a rivalry with the Swans. If Sheedy couldn’t sell AFL in the western suburbs of Sydney, no one could.
GWS CEO Dave Matthews has done his best to annoy Sydney as well by taking a shot at the now infamous cost of living allowance (COLA), which is granted to both Sydney based clubs. There is an attempt to make GWS versus Sydney into a west against east battle – something the Swans have scoffed at, claiming they are the team for all of Sydney.
All the media stirring aside, the Battle of the Bridge – a fresh rivalry – is set to become one of the games hardest fought and fiercest. Sydney are consistently amongst the best in the league and GWS are building a list that will be a powerhouse in their own right in the near future.
Saturday’s first win for the Giants over their cross town rivals is just the beginning: interest has been raised, and battle lines drawn. Sydney knows the young Giants mean business and they will come fired up next time they play their western suburbs neighbours to avoid a repeat of last weekend’s upset.
This is how great rivalries are born.