IF YOU looked closely last Sunday you would have spotted a young boy singing the song with the Giants after they defeated North Melbourne at Marvel Stadium.
That boy was Lucas Reid, who was on the jumping castle when the tragedy occurred at Hillcrest Primary School in Devonport last December.
When Richmond and Hawthorn played a charity game in February to raise money for the Devonport community left shattered by the six children who lost their lives and the three who were injured, Jack Riewoldt went to visit Lucas and his family while he recovered. It was then that Lucas confided in the Tigers star that while he grew up supporting Richmond, the three-time Coleman Medallist isn't his favourite player, neither is superstar midfielder Dustin Martin. In fact, a different No.4 is his favourite player.
It didn't take long for this piece of information to land on the desk of Giants chief executive Dave Matthews via his chief operating officer James Avery.
Since then, Toby Greene has developed a friendship with the boy and his father. They chat on the phone and via FaceTime. Greene invited them over for the game against the Kangaroos, before getting him in the circle after the 49-point win.
"He was really battling. It was a really tragic event. I don't think many can relate to that. It's going to be really hard for him to come back from it," Greene told AFL.com.au this week.
"He flew over from Tassie and he was in the rooms and I told him to jump in the circle and sing the song with us. That would have been pretty cool as a kid, I'm sure. For what he's been through, it's pretty inspiring. He doesn't expect too much, but he certainly deserves it."
Stories like this happen at football clubs in the AFL almost every week. It is one of the great things about this game. But it is also a small window into how the perception of Greene has shifted in the past few years since the 2019 finals series.
The 28-year-old hasn't quite managed to eradicate his semi-regular visits to the Tribunal from his repertoire, but the appreciation of his mastery has become universal. Now even rusted-on supporters of traditional powerhouse clubs fawn over the dual All-Australian, wishing he was running around in their colours.
After missing last year’s semi-final after being handed a three-game suspension – which was doubled a month later – for making contact with umpire Matt Stevic in the elimination final, Greene missed the first five games of 2022, amid a disastrous start to the season that ultimately led to the departure of Leon Cameron.
To make the situation even more difficult to stomach across March and April was the fact Greene had been named co-captain alongside Stephen Coniglio and Josh Kelly, following a season where the outside noise grew increasingly louder for him to be elevated to skipper.
Now Greene is seven games into a campaign that has seen the expansion club alter its coaching structure in the middle of the season. Mark McVeigh has been elevated to interim coach and has brought in Essendon premiership teammates James Hird and Dean Solomon to assist him in the coaches' box.
"It was the most difficult suspension I've had, no doubt about it. There was obviously a lot said and made about it. I was probably a lot more frustrated in the semi-final last year. I would have liked to have had a crack at beating Geelong; you never know what happens from there, but it wasn't the case," Greene said in an extended interview on AFL Daily ahead of Saturday night's clash against the Western Bulldogs.
"I was probably a lot more angry and frustrated and pissed off with everyone and myself at that time. But rounds one to five we weren't playing great footy which was more frustrating than me not playing. I felt for 'Chook' (Kelly) and 'Cogs' (Coniglio) and Leon. Leon was copping a lot of pressure and I wasn't able to help him in any way. It was a tough time. You learn a lot from it. Hopefully I'm not in that situation again. I don't recommend missing six weeks through suspension for anyone out there."
Greene is one of the great enigmas in the game. He has been painted as a villain, a thug and even public enemy No.1 at different stages. But for those who see him up close every day in western Sydney, outside perception isn't reality. There is much more to Greene than what the public witnesses across 120 minutes every weekend.
Inside the four walls of Giants HQ in Sydney Olympic Park, Greene is regarded as the most dedicated player to his life away from football. Last year he completed a Bachelor of Commerce, majoring in International Business and Marketing. Now he is in the early stages of a Master of Business Administration at Torrens University.
While veteran tagger Matt de Boer is regarded as one of the brightest footballers in the game right now, building his investment Syndicate Athletic Ventures with former test cricketer Ed Cowan, and Phil Davis and Lachie Keeffe are highly regarded for the academic side to life, Greene is endearingly referred to as a 'closet nerd', even though he doesn't agree with that moniker.
"This gets brought up a little bit: I'm not smart enough to be a nerd," he says with that signature grin.
"I've been in a lucky position where I've played 10 years of footy and I'm contracted for another four. I thought I better come away from footy with the highest qualifications possible. That was my thinking.
"It wasn't like that early days. It was probably thanks to mum that I kept on and had a crack at it. Early days I certainly didn't care about too much other than footy and hanging out with my mates. Really lucky to have a long career. If I can walk away with something to show for it, I'll be in a better position."
Those inside the club believe Greene is one of the better networkers in the building, making the most of his proximity to club executives, board members and corporates who love watching him take care of his own business. When the time comes for him to hang up his boots in five or six years, Greene is open to the idea of wearing a suit to work every day.
"I don't mind that idea at the moment. I'm trying my craft at a few things outside of footy and seeing what I'm interested in. I also love footy as well, so that's an option. I'm pretty open-minded what I do, whether I live in Sydney, Melbourne, London after footy. They are all options. I'll do anything I'm passionate about. That's my biggest thing," he said.
Greene's partner, Georgia Stirton, is a youth worker who spends her days helping disadvantaged Indigenous children at Police Citizens Youth Club (PCYC) in Redfern. They have opened their home to these kids, cooking them dinners and coaching them in a weekly basketball competition that just ended in heartbreak.
"Georgia manages the club down in Redfern, which is a highly concentrated Indigenous area and a lot of commission homes as well, which is where a lot of the kids from PCYC come from. They do amazing work down there," he said.
"They are just good kids, they come round for dinner every now and then. It is great."
Greater Western Sydney, and Gold Coast for that matter, has always faced the challenge of retaining gun young players who were taken in the first round of the draft and have been offered greater opportunity and remuneration elsewhere. The Giants have lost plenty of young stars who have been lured south by the bright lights of football cities and the opportunity to play for massive clubs in front of massive crowds in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.
But Greene has never been considered a flight risk. He has never been linked to other clubs, always signing long-term extensions with minimal fuss, unlike other players of his status in the game. This time last year he added two more seasons to his current deal, extending his contract until the end of 2026 at a time when no one was even thinking about his contract status.
"I have never really entertained an offer of leaving. I've never really been tempted. I've always loved the club, always loved Sydney. I've got a lot of close mates here," he said.
"I've been super flat to see a couple of boys leave. It was always going to happen when you have 20 top-20 picks, you're going to lose five or ten at least; it's just how the system was built and how the club was built. Now I'm one of the older boys. I want to win a premiership here. That's my biggest aim in the next four or five years."
Despite his desire to remain loyal to the club that drafted him from Wesley College and the Oakleigh Chargers via pick No.11 in the 2011 NAB AFL Draft, you can only imagine how big a deal it would be if he swapped orange for black and white, navy blue or yellow and black. It has crossed Greene's mind before, but never to the point where he has asked his manager, Paul Connors, to put some feelers out.
"I watched Queen's Birthday the other day and I'd love to play in front of 80,000. I'm sure you'd be getting up for it more than when you're playing in front of 10, 15, 20,000, that's just natural. I love playing finals because there is so much emphasis and so many eyes on you," he said.
"But building a club up here I can hold my head up high and say I've done a lot for building the game in Sydney. I think people under-appreciate how hard it has been for us as a club. You hear comments that we were given everything and it's been easy; it has been the opposite; it has been the hardest club to build a fan base and build a club in. I'm super proud of the way the club has gone about it and I feel like I've been a big part of that. I want to be around when we win a premiership, that would be the cherry on top."
Greene may have played more games and earned much more money than he ever dreamed of but being Toby Greene hasn't been easy at times. He has required incredibly thick skin to absorb the brutal vitriol that has come his way, most notably during the 2019 finals series and last year, although there have been too many occasions to list here.
His brilliance combined with his controversial actions have led to a level of notoriety only rivalled by the likes of Lance Franklin, Dustin Martin, Jordan De Goey, Nat Fyfe and Bailey Smith. It is not hard to see why the appeal of living in Sydney is still there, even after a decade in New South Wales. The level of anonymity is why Tony Lockett fled north all those years ago, before Buddy did the same thing. And it could be why Dusty finishes his career in Sydney.
"It was pretty crazy. But I have put myself in that position. Everyone watches finals and everyone has a comment on everything that goes on in finals. I always seem to find my way into the media during finals. It was a crazy period," he said.
"Now I look back on it, it should have just been on Zoom, I shouldn't have been going to Melbourne twice in a prelim' week. I don't think about it too much because I think if you think about it too much it would probably weigh you down a little bit. I'm really happy with the way I go about my footy. I put a lot of work into it, hold really high standards and really enjoy my footy as well."
If being Toby Greene has been extremely challenging at different times, it has been equally difficult being Toby Greene's mum, Kate. She has had to watch and listen to her son being abused in the stands and torn apart in newspapers and on TV, unable to do anything.
"She certainly struggled last year with the big one. It was pretty well reported on in the media and was a big talking point. Obviously didn't agree with a few things being said and she was a bit more vocal about that than myself. She has certainly had a tough go at it," he said.
"There have been times when she has been pretty rattled by it. I know she was pretty off footy by the end of last year. Being a school teacher as well, she hears it from her kids too at school, they come in and say 'what's going on with Toby'? I do feel for her in that regard because I just block it out, don't read our buy into it. But she's back on footy and back on the Giants."
Expect more twists and turns, accolades and abuse to come. That's just life being Toby Greene. Not that he's complaining. Football has given him plenty, just like he has given the game plenty.