Toby Greene and Craig Jennings at the Giants' pre-season training camp in the Blue Mountains and (inset) one of the rescue cats at Giants HQ. Pictures: Phil Hillyard/supplied

IT ALL started with Greyboy.

Last November, at the conclusion of another tough and gruelling Greater Western Sydney pre-season training session, the club's assistant coach Craig Jennings was walking back to his car when he noticed a confronting scene out of the corner of his eye.

In the bushes was a skinny, malnourished cat. Wrapped around its neck was a plastic container lid, making its breathing difficult and laboured. 'Greyboy', as he has since become affectionately named by Giants staff, was a street cat living on the outskirts of the club's Olympic Park headquarters.

Greyboy the cat when he was calling Giants HQ home. Picture: Supplied

Jennings, an animal lover, couldn't ignore the sight. That evening, he called a series of rescue groups and organised for a visit from two local cat rescuers, Katie and Karen, for the following day. Their discovery would lead to a club-wide effort that has persisted well into the start of the 2024 season.

See, there wasn't just Greyboy. Further into the shrub, just behind where the club houses its recovery pools and ice baths, there was Papaya. Then there was Paw Paw. Further along beyond the carpark were Pebbles, Pendles, Coco, Joey and Torti, all street cats that had one day decided to make the Giants their home.

It was then that Jennings, in amongst supporting Adam Kingsley's plan for a premiership assault in the upcoming campaign through his strenuous work as the club's offence coach, decided that his No.1 priority outside of football would be dedicated to helping catch Greyboy. And so began the whole-club mission to save the Giants' street cats.

Papaya after her capture. Picture: AFL Photos

"I set up a feeding station," Jennings tells

"What that feeding station does is ensures the cats don't starve to death, but also it allows them to learn to come to this space and stay in the space where the food is. They'll associate the food with me and then part of that is they learn to trust me. Once the cats trust me, I'm able to catch them."

Ady Schwegler, the club's long-time property and logistics manager, helped Jennings cordon off the area where the cats were living and ensured it was protected from the players and the public. Will Helm, the club's content creator and a vital member of its media team, lent GoPros to catch any vision of the cats wandering around at night.

"The GoPros give me great information on the cats, in terms of how many there are and the areas of the football club they're accessing. That's allowed me, with the support of the animal rescuers, to be able to catch and trap the cats," Jennings says.

It took around a week for Jennings to eventually isolate, feed and then earn the trust of Greyboy. When he did, the cat was captured and sent to a local vet clinic to have the plastic container lid removed and be fully checked over.

Greyboy the cat after his capture. Picture: AFL Photos

Greyboy is now healthy and thriving, but the task isn't over with yet. There was initially a total of eight cats living at the Giants, and the process to win the trust of many of them has been a battle Jennings has dealt with for months now.

Jennings, an assistant at AFL level for over 20 years with Essendon, the Western Bulldogs, Melbourne and now the Giants, might be the perfect man for such a task. With plans to start his own animal sanctuary post-football, rescuing critters and creatures of all sizes has always been in his repertoire. Even if it's made him the butt of some jokes among his team.

"I realised the other day that half the club thinks the cats are living with me," he laughs.

"But I'm the one everyone goes to when there's a spider at the club. A while back, a possum found its way inside the building. It took me an hour, but I eventually corralled it outside. That one got caught on film and the vision has found its way into a few team meetings for an easy laugh. I just don't like the thought of an animal suffering."

But if the possum was a tough one to navigate, the cats are a different story entirely.

So far, four cats have been caught. Last week, there was a breakthrough when Torti – the mum – was captured. News of that moment even reached the club's executive general manager of football, Jason McCartney, such was its importance.

Torti the street cat. Picture: Supplied

It means there are only two remaining cats that can breed. Catching that pair will now become the next priority, though locating Joey – a grey cat that Jennings has only identified via GoPro vision and is yet to see in the flesh – is also high on the agenda.

"At the moment, we're trapping around one a week," Jennings says.

"We send them to the vet and get them desexed, so there's no issues with the population exploding at the football club. We also get them vaccinated and because they are street cats, even though they're only five or so months old, some of them need further vet care."

Greyboy the cat. Picture: Supplied

The vet bills, Jennings concedes, are significant. But, to help him cover the costs, a host of players – most prominently Toby Greene and Stephen Coniglio – have taken to signing jumpers and auctioning them off. All proceeds go towards helping the cats.

There is also the issue of finding the cats loving new homes. Ben Hart, the club's respected midfield assistant, has agreed to take one. Andrew Murphy, the Giants' sport science coordinator and its rehab performance coach, will adopt another once cleared to do so by a vet. But further help is needed.

"Ultimately, if there were organisations or anyone that made donations to help feed the cats, that would be helpful. But the most important thing to me is finding a good home for the cats once we've caught them," Jennings says.

"They've been street cats, so they'll take a little bit of care and attention. But it's about finding the right homes. They would take different amounts of time and the right household to be able to socialise them and get them used to a proper way of living."

Craig Jennings at GWS training in January 2023. Picture: Phil Hillyard

But, while Jennings and the Giants have made significant ground in starting the process to rescue the street cats, he is now hopeful the wider AFL industry can also chip in to help support the cause. And he has a couple of the League's biggest names in mind.

"I'm tapping into my AFL network," Jennings says.

"I had breakfast with [Collingwood assistant coach] Hayden Skipworth the other day when he was in Sydney. My next road trip to Melbourne, I'm taking a rescue back for him. There's a black and white cat that I've called 'Pendles', so I think that's perfect for him.

"Ross Lyon was my Level 4 coaching mentor. He loves cats. Do you think he might save one?"