Jack Buckley during the round 10 match between Greater Western Sydney and St Kilda at Giants Stadium, May 21, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

IT’S HARD to fathom Jack Buckley ever lacking self-belief.

When you've been forced to fight from the rookie list for nearly three seasons to make your AFL debut, overcome a torn ACL that threatened to derail your career and still emerge as one of the best key defenders in the competition, there’s a fair chance you’re made of stern stuff.

But as a teenager coming through the academy of his now rival Sydney, the Greater Western Sydney defender walked out on the caper he now adores.

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"To be honest, I just didn't think I was that good," Buckley told AFL.com.au.

"I wasn't getting picked for any of the games. I enjoyed playing at the Maroubra Saints on a Sunday, but I wasn't loving it. The intensity wasn't anything great. It was just at that time in my life, I was 15 and to be honest, I just didn't really care enough and I didn't see myself being an AFL footballer. I had the dream, but I didn't think it was achievable.

"I went and played basketball at school and just loved it, and then once school finished, I started to get back into (football) and enjoy it. I learned a lot about what I want. I was always competitive, but I learned a lot about work ethic and what it takes and I figured out who I want to be as a player.

"And then once I got a taste of that professional environment, I was like, 'I need that. I want to be a part of that', and then once I got in I just never wanted to get out," Buckley said.

The belated perseverance, despite all the obstacles, has seen the 25-year-old with only 40 games under his belt construct an almighty breakout season in 2023, to be second in the competition for spoils and 13th for intercept possessions.

Alongside the seemingly unbeatable Sam Taylor, the Giants have forged a key defensive partnership that is the equal of any in the AFL.

Albeit one that is sweating on Taylor's availability, due to a hamstring injury, for Saturday's elimination final with the Saints.

"He looks like he's on track. I'm watching him pretty closely and hovering around seeing how he's going. We've all got our fingers crossed, but he wasn't there last week and we were able to get the job done, so either way we'll be confident, but we certainly will want him to be out there with us.

"We love playing together. It's funny to reflect on the fact that we're down there together as these two key backs, given my first three years.

Sam Taylor and Jack Buckley after the round five match between Sydney and Greater Western Sydney at the SCG, April 17, 2021. Picture: Getty Images

"We were living together and he was flying and I was sort of like a high half-forward, didn't really know what I was. I was struggling to stay on the list, let alone get a game, so it's funny how it's panned out.

"He's the best back in the comp and also a best mate of mine," Buckley added.

The Taylor-Buckley partnership has formed the backbone of the Giants' rise into the top eight in Adam Kingsley's first year in charge.

The foundations for that, however, were built a long way from the limelight, the season before.

In Buckley's case, on the sidelines, as he recovered from a knee reconstruction and picked the brain of inaugural GWS captain and fellow key defender Phil Davis.


"I certainly learned a lot from him on how much concentration you need as a defender. You need to be really switched on upstairs. I was able to get by for my first 15 games by being real man focused, but you can only get so far being that way.

"The way the game's going, you need to be able to have a few different tricks and you've got to intercept a lot more. I did a lot of work with him and then Brett Montgomery (defensive coach) came in this year and he's done wonders for the way we play down back and my ability to come off my man and help my teammates."

Another inspiration for Buckley has been his father, Ben.

His appointment as the CEO of Football Australia 17 years ago brought Jack and his family to Sydney, but none of his high-profile positions – which included being chairman of North Melbourne – or his 74-game playing career at the Kangaroos, cast a shadow for his son.

Ben Buckley (centre) during a North Melbourne media opportunity, December 12, 2019. Picture: Getty Images

"It was something that never fazed me because I took so much pride in it. We have such a great relationship and I've sort of joked a few times that, 'you're not Wayne Carey, mate. The boots aren't that big to fill'.

"I just couldn't be more grateful for what he's done for me. He never put any pressure on me. At games he was hard to spot, he would always be tucked away under a tree, I'd be trying to spot him. But whenever I wanted some advice, he'd be ready to give it too. It's something I hold pretty close to my heart, that's for sure."

Despite the academy era complication, belief is now there in abundance for Buckley, as it is for the Giants on the whole, with the players firmly of the mindset they can stretch their finals campaign deep into September.

Giants players after winning the round 24 match between Carlton and Greater Western Sydney at Marvel Stadium, August 27, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

"It was a bit hard early in the year, when the results weren't coming, and then the belief just builds and builds to the point now where we've got a lot of momentum.

"And you come into a final series and we're extremely confident that no matter where it is and whatever game it is, if we deliver on our roles and our system, that we can be in any game we play in," he said.

And considering his journey to the top, Buckley won’t take a second of it lightly.

"There are certainly moments where you get a chance to reflect. You just can't take it for granted, especially given the way the last two years panned out for me personally. You pinch yourself at times, but equally, I know I'm ready for the fight, so it's exciting."