'The Giants Are My Life': Meet The Superfan Who Proves This Club Has Soul
Like all the best stories and conspiracy theories, this all starts on a grassy knoll.
The exact location was behind the goalposts at the southern end of Blacktown International Sportspark.
Don't be fooled by the grandiose stadium name. It was basically just a tree-ringed oval with eight posts and a tiny stand. It looked and smelled like bush footy. But it was here that the GWS Giants played just their third-ever AFL match.
This reporter was there that day, sitting alongside a bloke called Michael Shillito. His story is worth sharing.
Shillito, 48, is an accounts clerk who works in Parramatta -- Sydney's so-called "second CBD" in the heart of the west. He was born in Sydney but spent a few years in Melbourne in his childhood. It was during that phase of life that he became a fan of Essendon and the game of Aussie Rules football in general.
But when the Giants came along, it was bye-bye Bombers. "The Giants needed me more than Essendon did," he laughs.
For eight years now, Shillito has led the Giants cheer squad. All chants begin and end with him. He is a giant presence behind the goal for the orange army, unmissable in his trademark green headband.
Back on that grassy hill at Blacktown International Sportspark in 2012, there wasn't much to cheer about. The West Coast Eagles put on a first-quarter clinic. One team was playing AFL footy. The other looked like it never had and never would.
By quarter time, West Coast had kicked 11 majors. The scoreboard wasn't so much ticking over, as whirring. The way things were going, the Eagles were on track to reach 300.
"It was tough. Realistically, you knew most of the time we were going to get flogged," Shillito recalls of those early days.
And they did get flogged. A lot. The Giants won just three matches in their first two seasons and set all sorts of low points-scoring records. But things were about to change.
"One thing we always had in those early days was hope," Shillito says. "We always knew that things were going to turn around, and that those skinny young kids were going to grow up to become Giants."
And that's exactly what happened. The Giants have been a premiership force for four years now. Before this year's Grand Final run, they made consecutive preliminary finals in 2016 and 2017. This, of course, spurred arguments over whether the club was gifted too many generous AFL concessions.
This sour-toned debate is probably best left for another day. But suffice to say, Shillito has always passionately argued that the Giants traded well, developed talent well, and created a brilliant club culture.
Have the Gold Coast Suns achieved anything with all the same concessions as the Giants? Shillito rests his case.
Meanwhile, Shillito -- who has only missed a handful of Giants games anywhere in Australia in eight seasons, and then, only due to work or family commitments -- is now in Melbourne for the grand final. And loving it.
In his own way, he has become a giant of a club which now has 30,000 members. But he sees the relationship the other way round.
"The Giants are my life," he says. "Being a part of something and watching it grow from nothing to what we are today gives me and pride. I love this club."
And whatever happens against Richmond on Sunday, he always will. And just quietly, without putting the mockers on, Michael tells us that he's got a sneaky good feeling about Saturday's result.