ADAM Kingsley knows what success in the AFL looks like.
He was a premiership player at Port Adelaide in 2004, part of the club's coaching group when it returned to the Grand Final in 2007, an assistant coach at St Kilda the season after it made the Grand Final in 2010, and then part of Damien Hardwick's Richmond staff when it claimed back-to-back flags in 2019 and 2020.
It places Kingsley in a rare vantage point where he can recognise a group that's on the verge of success like few others in the football landscape. It also puts him in the unique position of knowing definitively that his Greater Western Sydney crop is capable of climbing the premiership mountain, like his previous teams have done before.
The Giants were among the best stories of the season just gone. When Kingsley was appointed in August 2022, they had just finished third-last and were on the verge of a Trade Period where they would lose star midfield duo Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper to Richmond. The first-time head coach was, in the eyes of most, in for a tough slog.
But seven successive wins in the back half of the season saw Kingsley's developing side snatch a finals berth, before road wins in September over St Kilda and Port Adelaide ultimately culminated in a thrilling one-point preliminary final defeat to eventual premier Collingwood at the MCG.
It was enough for Kingsley to see signs within his Giants group that were reminiscent of the successful Power, Saints and Tigers squads he'd witnessed challenge first-hand before. So, does his current team have the same type of quality, belief and determination to win a flag? His answer is emphatic.
"Yes. Yes, they definitely do," Kingsley told AFL.com.au.
"We talk about top-end talent. Richmond's top-end was extraordinary. I see our top-end and the lines are a little blurred between our top-end talent and the middle. We have a lot of possibility around developing players. I'm really excited about what those players could become.
"They're a terrific group of people, they're bloody good blokes. They're all selfless, they're all team-first, they're all desperate to be premiership players. That's a small part of it, but what I see is how desperate they are to make each other premiership players.
"The desire that many of our players have to get Callan Ward a premiership, or Lachie Keeffe, or Daniel Lloyd this year, or Toby Greene. All of those guys, who they can see are in the back half of their careers. That tells you a lot about the group and how selfless they are.
"But we'll really find out how desperate we are to make each other better by the way that we return this pre-season."
If the Giants needed footsteps to follow in when they do return for summer training later this year, this season's premier in Collingwood – the team that ultimately bundled them out of contention a month ago – make for a pretty good case study.
Like the Giants one season later, the Pies finished close to the bottom before a change of coach in 2021. Like the Giants, the Pies stormed into the finals picture with an impressive back half of the season in Craig McRae's first year. Like the Giants, the Pies fell short of a Grand Final thanks to a heart-stopping preliminary final defeat in that same campaign. Almost 12 months later, though, they were crowned premiers. It's a path Kingsley wants to replicate.
"The blueprint is there," Kingsley said.
"They were out of the finals midway through 2022, sitting ninth or 10th. They weren't as low as what we were, but they were still outside the eight. They ended up winning a couple of finals, missing out by a point in a preliminary final. That would appear to be a similar trajectory.
"Everyone this year will expect us to win the premiership based on that. But, as we know, it's not always linear and it's not always smooth sailing. We just have to focus on ourselves, preparing ourselves as best as we can. We want to refine our game as best as we can and ultimately we'll just see where it takes us.
"Very, very rarely does that final game of the season end in extreme happiness like it did for Collingwood this year."
Kingsley was handed the Allan Jeans Senior Coach of the Year award for his success in turning the Giants around this season. Not just from where they were last year, but also from where they were at the campaign's halfway point.
The Giants limped to 4-8 and were inside the bottom four midway through the season, before seven straight wins in a run that featured 11 victories from 13 matches saw them dash towards the preliminary final.
Being a first-year senior coach, who had served 16 years as an assistant before finally being given his maiden opportunity in the hot seat, the early disappointments ensured some nervous moments around whether his grand plan would indeed work. But Kingsley stuck to his guns.
If the team's conviction to playing the Kingsley way was admirable during its early struggles, then it became incredibly satisfying when the tide eventually turned and the 'Orange Tsunami' soon swept all before it later in the year.
"You sit in the assistant coaching seat and you hear coaches, and I've heard Mick Malthouse in the past say this, 'Do it how you think it should be done ... do it your way.' You then say, 'Yes, I'll definitely do that'," Kingsley said.
"But during those moments, you do have moments where you waver. That's where I had one or two of my coaches really remind me. They said, 'Hey, you know how to play this and you know what's possible with it … stick to your guns'. Those little reminders helped to keep me on track, whereas it probably could've been easier just to fold on some of the things that I really believe in.
"The Geelong game was really important for us down at Kardinia Park. The reality is, for the first 10 weeks of the season our pressure and our defensive intent around the ball was sometimes really good and sometimes ordinary. Basically, for that Geelong game, that was the big shift. Our players got to feel what 120 minutes of a really strong, in-tight, contested, defensive mindset was like.
"Up until that point of the season, that was our best pressure game. When you get that level of pressure, everything else falls into place. Getting that level of pressure, it was easy to stick to my guns of knowing this works. I knew it was a finals brand. We just had to learn exactly what it takes."
The determination and belief that flowed through the Giants' group during the second half of the season was reflected in Kingsley's side breaking the V/AFL record for winning at the most venues across a single calendar year.
The Giants won on 11 different grounds last season – Giants Stadium, Norwood Oval, the SCG, GMHBA Stadium, Blundstone Arena, TIO Traeger Park, the Adelaide Oval, Manuka Oval, Mars Stadium, Marvel Stadium and the MCG – to re-write the record books.
It meant that having to play on the MCG in an elimination final against St Kilda or the Adelaide Oval in a semi-final against Port Adelaide held no fears for Kingsley's side, whose 'anywhere, anytime' mantra was pivotal to their success.
"It's just a belief that grew," Kingsley said.
"I didn't have to really talk about it much at all. The players did all of the talking among themselves. I'll say one thing, maybe present something, then they grab hold of it. That was really pleasing.
"What us as a coaching group were talking about, the players were grabbing hold of it and really trying to run with it. We had a few of those different things across the year. Obviously, the first one of them was to try and recreate that 'Orange Tsunami' both on offence and on defence. Our players grabbed hold of that and really embraced it.
"That 'anywhere, anytime' mentality, the players spoke about it. I very rarely spoke about that. I quite enjoy getting away and spending a day or two interstate, looking forward to that challenge. Maybe they just saw how much I enjoyed it and thought that it was a good thing. We won a couple and we started to build the belief, that's always important."
Such a rapid rise across one single season can make expectations for the future difficult to assess. Are the results of 2023 now the benchmark for the Giants? Or will there be a regression? For Kingsley, the answer is simple. Last season was just the beginning. There is still improvement to come.
"I think we're a finals team," Kingsley said.
"How deep into finals? Can we be a premiership team? Yes, of course we can. But as we know and we've seen in the past, it's just as easy to miss the eight the following season. People get comfortable with themselves and drop off slightly and, as we know, you only have to drop off slightly to find your way out of it. That's our challenge, to return in great shape and ready to attack the season.
"What did we finish the year before? 16th? To make it inside the top four, it's obviously been a really good season for us. The problem is, you always see what you missed out on. By such a little margin, that's what I'm trying to move past right now … the fact we missed out on the opportunity to play in a Grand Final, as opposed to just making the finals.
"We aspire to do that every year. We were able to win a couple of finals and ultimately lose to the premiers and the best team in the competition all season by a point in the preliminary final on their home deck.
"We're obviously really happy with how the season progressed, but we're incredibly disappointed with how it finished."