IF A week is a long time in footy, a year is an eternity. Just ask Greater Western Sydney coach Leon Cameron.

After making the Grand Final in 2019 with a fairytale run through September, the Giants crashed back to earth in 2020 with a thud.

AAMI COMMUNITY SERIES Check out the pre-season fixture

As if missing the top eight for the first time in five years wasn't bad enough, they then watched as six senior players departed during the off-season, headlined by star forward Jeremy Cameron's move to Geelong.

What went wrong and how do they fix it? Are they still premiership contenders? How do they cover Cameron's loss?

There are so many questions that need to be answered and it makes GWS one of the more fascinating teams in the competition heading into 2021.

Speaking with AFL.com.au, Cameron said he'd done plenty of evaluating since trudging off the Gabba following a final-round loss to St Kilda last September.

There were things to address on the field and things to address off it – "there was no use burying our head in the sand," as he put it.

"Our footy was so inconsistent in 2020. An inconsistent year resulted in inconsistent performances and we ended up in the right spot."

What went wrong?

When you plummet from runners-up to 10th place within 12 months, there's generally a few areas of concern.

It started with the engine room. Still stacked with talent – captain Stephen Coniglio, Tim Taranto, Josh Kelly and Jacob Hopper among many others – it was regularly beaten around the ball.

In their nine losses, the Giants lost the contested ball count six times. Regularly among the best teams in that department the previous five years, this was the root of the problems.

You'd normally go to most games and Giants supporters would walk away, win or lose, there'd be some inconsistency with our defence, but never on our contested stuff, we'd normally be around the mark.

- Leon Cameron

As a result, they often attacked from the defensive side of centre - rarely the best spot to launch for any team.

"We're really confident (that will change)," Cameron said.

"For whatever reason, whether it was their appetite, the effect the year before had on them, it's irrelevant. We need to get back to earning our stripes in there.

"Our midfield wants to be known as two-way runners, they want to get back to the coalface and win the contested ball, work hard for each other."

AFL FIXTURE Check it out here

The battle for positions on-ball should be fierce, with powerhouse youngster Tom Green already impressing in his second pre-season. Callan Ward is also healthy.

Then there was the poor ball movement.

One of the most exciting teams in the competition to watch suddenly became vanilla. So many attacking weapons and so much difficulty scoring.

Giants captain Stephen Coniglio after the loss to the Saints. Picture: AFL Photos

Steve Johnson has been added to the coaching team in 2021, and along with Adam Schneider, has been charged with improving the ball movement.

Cameron conceded they needed to be more attacking and use the corridor, after playing too slowly last year.

The 'hubs' were a challenge for every team, with the coach saying the three-game Perth stint mid-season, which included a dreadful loss to cross-town rivals Sydney in round 12, was particularly disappointing.

CIRCLE THEM IN YOUR CALENDAR The 20 matches of 2021 you won't want to miss

Cameron took ownership of the problem, saying he needed to learn how to balance the fine line between giving players freedom and keeping them on a tight rein under the strict circumstances all clubs faced.

"I don't think you could blame the hubs. Part of it contributes to it, but us being mentally stronger to deal with those issues - we needed to be better."

But perhaps most disturbing of all came post-season. Jeremy Cameron (Geelong), Zac Williams (Carlton), Aidan Corr (North Melbourne), Zac Langdon (West Coast), Jye Caldwell (Essendon) and Jackson Hately (Adelaide) all decided they wanted out.

They all had different reasons and they're all big losses for different reasons. 

Cameron said it had been spoken about at length since November's trade and free agency period.

2021 FREE AGENTS Check out who is up for grabs

"If you put your head in the sand, then you're not going to learn. Whether it's coaching, whether it's welfare, whether it's dealing with the hub better, acknowledge it and make sure when you do come around you put things in place to make sure it doesn’t happen," he said.

"You don't want to be losing six players every year, especially some of the calibre we spoke about.

"In saying that, I feel we've got a really good track record and it was a year out of the blue. I'm not concerned we're going to see that again in 2021 … I feel it was just a once off year."

In losing Cameron to the Cats, the Giants have farewelled a two-time All Australian who won the club's goalkicking in each of his nine seasons.

04:22 Mins
Published on

Get excited: Watch the best highlights of Jeremy Cameron

Enjoy the standout moments from the forward's career so far

Published on

"If I sat here and said: "one out, one in" (I'd be lying)," Cameron said.

"Jeremy is a significant contributor to our footy club, 10 years at our club, he came as a 17-year-old and he made a wonderful contribution.

"We were desperate to keep him, we were disappointed to lose him.

"We understand for family reasons, he made that choice.

"That was hard to take."

The Giants now face the challenge of replacing his career output of 2.5 goals a game.

What's changed?

Enter Jesse Hogan.

No, the former Demon and Docker is not a straight swap for the left-footed Coleman medalist, but he's part of the solution to filling the gap. 

In fact, the Giants are blessed with a few tall options.

They'll be selecting three – or possibly only two – from Hogan, Harry Himmelberg, Jeremy Finlayson and last year's revelation, Jake Riccardi.

There's also Toby Greene, who will still spend most of his time forward, and Brent Daniels to kick goals.

Hogan is fascinating. He's settled into Sydney well in his first few months and is training strongly after being affected by a foot problem for much of last season.

"He's put his footy on the line," Cameronn said.

"He's come over here, he's taken a reduction in his contract, signed a one-year deal, he wants to show the Giants and the footy world he can contribute on the field.

"You take your hat off to people that put themselves out there and that's what Jesse is doing.

"If he continues to progress the way he's progressing, you could see him playing some good footy as one of those key forwards. We haven't set him back, he'll take up a key forward role."

What to expect

Where does it all leave the Giants? Whether it's a reset, rebuild, remodel or whatever you like to call it, it's definitely a change.

The core of the team that both made the 2019 Grand Final and spiralled south a year later is still there to shape 2021. 

"The biggest thing for us is we want to be closer to the 2019 Giants," Cameron said.

"We need to bounce back with our appetite, our contested method. 

"We'd actually built up a really good brand, a really good DNA at our footy club over four or five years. That was the most disappointing thing.

"Our players feel that. They realise we let ourselves down.

"You'd normally go to most games and Giants supporters would walk away, win or lose, there'd be some inconsistency with our defence, but never on our contested stuff, we'd normally be around the mark. 

FOOTY'S MIRACLES ON DEMAND

Enjoy the most Incredible Comebacks in AFL history, showing every goal from the most significant margin until the final siren

Watch Now

"We need to get that brand back.

"When you play that brand, that gives you a chance to win games which gives you a chance to play finals footy.

"We want to play finals footy every year, regardless of whether or not we've brought six new kids in.

"We need to get back to playing a tough brand of footy, we need to move the ball in a manner we can disturb the opposition like we did two years ago, and clearly we need to have a better approach with our all-in defensive method.

"If we can do those three things better than we did last year, we feel as though we can disturb a lot of sides.

"We understand a lot of people are watching to see how the Giants bounce back in 2021 and we're looking forward to it."