Kevin Sheedy is greeted by the Giants' new orange army in NSW Central Coast

Sheeds Spreads Giants Gospel

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

FROM watching Cadel Evans take home the yellow guernsey on the Champs-Élysées to driving around Mount Panaroma in Bathurst, GWS coach Kevin Sheedy has been spreading the Giants and AFL gospel far and wide in the last month.

Sheedy’s 44,277 kilometre voyage – which took in Czech Republic, Italy, France, Broken Hill, Darwin, Canberra, Orange and Bathurst – finished this week with a talent search in the Central West. A quest for the first professional AFL player from the area.

A rousing welcome from 350 kids at St Marys Primary dressed in orange and singing ‘Up there Cazaly’ was something the AFL Hall of Famer "has never experienced in my life."

After becoming the head coach of the Giants in 2010, Sheedy has been helping to grow the game in NSW/ACT and the results are startling.

While in the Central West this week, over 5,000 kids were engaged, some for the very first time, 500 kids were athletically tested by the GWS Academy and some potential stars were identified.

"We found a Polynesian kid who is 15-years-old playing rugby league that has a vertical jump of 71 centimetres and runs the 20 metre sprint in under three seconds. These figures are strikingly close to emerging West Coast star Nic Naitanui," GWS Academy Manager Lachlan Buszard said.

"There’s no doubt a player from the Central West will be on our list within two to three years."

The Central West is zoned to the GIANTS which means all talented players can be drafted by the club when they turn 18-years-old.

The area has been typically dominated by both rugby codes and soccer while Australian football has started to take off in recent years.

This is the Giants’ first trip to the Central West and Sheedy said he was impressed with what he saw.

"Parents are starting to understand [about AFL]," Sheedy said.

"There are great opportunities out there now for kids to learn that there’s a club in their area representing them in the west of Sydney and that they can play for them.

"It’s an AFL club on their doorstep, just two hours away."

After almost a month on the road, Sheedy will return to the coach’s box alongside Mark Williams and help lead the club from the front ahead of their debut season next year.

With participation rates booming across the state – up from 60,000 to 125,322 in five years – Sheedy said he has no doubt Australian football will continue to grow in the Central West and all of NSW/ACT.

"That’s just a no brainer," he said.

"Once the kids understand the game, play it and watch it more, they’ll love it.

"It’s no different than what Nic Naitanui was doing when his parents left Fiji when he was ten. He’s now become a young champion in the AFL because he actually came in contact with the game.

"So whether you’re in Fiji or here in the NSW it’s all about the environment and getting in contact with the game."

Sheedy, who turns 64 this year, said he’s got no plans of retirement anytime soon and will continue to spread the Giants and AFL gospel far and wide.

"In this game, I’ve found something that I love and have a passion for and I’m going to make sure between now and when my life finishes that I’m going to share that passion with people." 

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