It’s taken a long time for GWS youngster Jeremy Finlayson to find his spot in the team. He finally made his debut in his third season last year, but then injured his knee early on in the game against the Cats. Finally with some continuity and some confidence, the defender has steadily become a key part of the Giants’ defensive set-up. He spoke to AFLPlayers.com.au about his time in the AFL system so far…
It must be a relief to string a few games together in 2018 and cement your spot in the side?
Yeah, it’s been unreal. To play with some of the best players in the comp and perhaps the best list — I’ve been here for four years, and I had to work my way up into the team. It’s a feeling of relief to play a few games and realise my childhood dream after so much work.
Did you almost wonder if it was ever going to happen?
I have been talking to Mark McVeigh for a while about my development, and I also lived with Nathan Wilson and saw how he did it the hard way and that it took him a few years to crack into the side and play regular footy. So I knew that if I stuck at it — and everyone at the club has been telling me that I deserve to play — but I needed to understand just how hard it is to make it in the AFL. I knew that if I put my head down and my bum up that anything was possible.
So you’ve made a conscious effort to be in front of the coaches as much as possible to prove your worth to them?
Yeah, for sure. I had a few things that were setting me back last year that I had to work on. I was always in their face asking them what I need to work on, and I had some tough conversations, particularly with our NEAFL coach last year, Brad Miller. I sat down with him and said that I just wanted some direct feedback and that he shouldn’t dance around things. I wanted it to be honest feedback so that I could apply it and actually improve, and that helped massively.
What were some of the things he said to you?
It was a lot of personal stuff, like all the things I had to work on, but I probably won’t go into it. It was things inside me and things I needed to do to make me play better.
When he did tell you those things, was it a bit of a shock to you?
I kind of expected it because it was towards the start of the year, and after he told me I fixed it up. I did a full pre-season and worked on these things and now I’m lucky enough to be playing.
And your story is an interesting one in that you were a Giants academy pick, but in 2014 when you were drafted you were practically the last pick considering the next selection was a father-son…
Yeah, I knew that the Giants were going to take me, and obviously they had draft picks earlier and they let me know that they’d use their last one on me. And knowing that, I was happy that I was going to get picked up, but I guess I was one of the last draft picks and wasn’t the talented kid that was ever going to go top 10 or top 20, and I had to actually work pretty hard on my fitness to make it.
You spoke before about some of the coaches who have helped, but who are the players that you have gravitated towards?
Early on I was playing a bit at half-back, so it was Heath Shaw and Nathan Wilson who provided that initial guidance. Living with him, I just used to watch everything he did. Now that I’m playing as one of the key defenders, it’s been guys like Phil Davis, Adam Tomlinson and Aidan Corr, but the biggest help has been Phil Davis. He has given me direct feedback and has been huge for my development.
When you got brought in for your debut, you were included as more of a rebounding defender to replace Zac Williams, whereas now you’re playing as more of a key back. What has your off-season been like focusing on a new position/role?
In the past, I probably haven’t been the greatest in the off-season. Last year, I went to Ireland and I knew that if I was going to have a good pre-season, it was going to come on the back of getting my off-season right. So I went to Ireland for my sister’s wedding, and that was really hard because I was just there with family and didn’t have anyone around to run with to motivate me, so I had to find treadmills and places to run. It was a mindset thing for me, it was like everything clicked and I realised that if I did everything the club sent me to a tee, then it’d pay off down the track. I’m a country boy, and in the past couple of years I would have just gone back home and done a little bit of work here and there, and that’d be right. Then the mindset shifted and I prepared myself for the hard work.
What sort of training were you doing over there as part of the program?
I’d have to get up early when everyone else was still partying and start doing some running and boxing, even though I’d prefer to be having beers with family. There was one day there where it was still the wedding day and I knew that I just had to leave and go by myself to do a bit of running while everyone was still enjoying themselves. As a player, you eventually get used to making sacrifices, and I’d made them before when I made the call to move up to Sydney as a 16, or 17-year-old and move away from home as a skinny kid when I wasn’t already on an AFL list.
You’re still a young guy, but when you do look back at those sacrifices, how does it feel now to run on the MCG and beat Collingwood, and then play the next week on the SCG and look around and see Buddy Franklin out there?
What I like about it is that I’ve made mum and dad happy. They forked out all the money that they had to scrape the barrel for to get me to where I am now, so that’s what I’m most thankful for. It was just a childhood dream, as soon as I touched a footy I wanted to play on the MCG, and I was supposed to play out there before one of the Grand Finals a few years ago for the Allies and ended up having hip surgery and missed out on that. To run out against one of the biggest AFL clubs two weeks ago was surreal, and it actually took me about a quarter to get into it because it was unreal to just look around and think about some of the moments that have taken place there.
Are your parents still back home?
Yeah, they’re still in Culcairn working away.
What do they do for work?
We lived in town, there’s about 1200 people in the town there and dad works at the army base at Kapooka in Wagga and mum works at the local butcher shop.
Have they made it to some of the games you’ve played so far?
Yeah, they’ve been to every game. Dad said to me the other day that he wouldn’t come to the SCG because he had work, and then somehow he got someone else to fill in for him. Just for them to make it means so much to me. I’ve got my cousins coming over from Melbourne and driving to our game in Canberra next week which will be awesome as well.
Take me back to your debut against the Cats last year. It must have been incredible to finally play your first game after three years, and then you went down with the knee injury…
That was probably the worst moment of my footy career. To have everyone back home watching my first game and to have my family there, and then for it to go out the window with one tackle was just terrible. My leg hurt so much and I had thoughts that it was an ACL, and when I came to the bench I just thought, ‘I’m done here.’ When I went down to the rooms I didn’t want to see or hear from anyone, I just wanted to go home and lock myself in my room. Then mum and dad walked in and they were crying, it was truly one of the worst moments I’ve ever had. But to get the opportunity to at least play on the AFL stage and get my jumper presented to me by two of my best mates was something I’ll never forget.
How long did it take you to move forward? Was it something that took you a few weeks to come to grips with?
I ended up being good because in my first two years on the list I was injured with hips and just getting used to an AFL program, so I knew how to attack rehab. And with the injuries we had last year, I thought that maybe I could knuckle down and get back into the team, but it wasn’t to be. I just hit it head on and put it past me, and that little taste of AFL that I received made me hungrier and now I’m lucky enough to be playing again.
What’s your living situation like now that Nathan Wilson has headed west?
I’m living right now with Lachie Tiziani and Zach Sproule, who are two young boys from Albury. When Nath moved to Fremantle, I was in two minds because I wasn’t sure who we were going to draft in and who I was going to live with, and then during the exit meetings Leon Cameron actually asked if I wanted to live with him and his family. To get that offer from the senior coach was a relief at the time, because I didn’t know what I was going to do. Then Lachlan and Zach came over to me and asked if I wanted to live with them, and now the three of us are living in Drummoyne.
Were you initially going to accept Leon’s offer? Or was the offer from your new teammates too good to refuse?
Leon knew how important this year was for me, so considering that the thought did cross my mind, but I knew that if I was in his house it could be just all footy, and I know that I need that time away from it all. Whereas with the boys, there’s plenty of banter in the house and we play FIFA and avoid watching all of the footy shows that are on. Although it’s pretty easy to stay away from that stuff in Sydney.
What interests do you have outside of footy?
We live right on the Parramatta River and we go fishing there. Our neighbour, who we’ve only met once, gives us his jetty so we go out there and we’ve caught a few flathead. I also spend my time playing some golf, although I’m not very strong at it. The driver seems to go everywhere.
It’s still early days, but do you feel you belong at the level? Just from watching you, you seem calm and composed and your ability to intercept has been really impressive…
A lot of people have told me that, and interestingly, the intercepting has only just come into my game this past pre-season. I’m slowly starting to believe that I’m there, and I’m getting a lot of trust from the boys, and that makes me really happy because in the last couple of years I didn’t have their trust, but now I’m gaining it.
Intercepting is an important skill in today’s game, and it’s something that not every player possess. How’d you just pick it up in an off-season?
I got drafted as a forward, and then Leon said that he wanted to throw me in the backline, and then last year for me was about spoiling, so every time I went near it I would just spoil. This year, instead of spoiling I’m doing a bit of both and it has just become a habit now that I have more belief in myself to mark it rather than spoiling all the time. It’s just a different mindset. As a group we’ve been doing plenty of work on that.
And you’re out of contract at the end of the year, do you think about that much?
Yeah, I am. There’s a few people talking but I stay away from that. I’m just excited to play footy. My manager, Dave Trotter, keeps in touch with me about it, but all I said at the start of the season was that I wanted to leave it until mid-season so I can focus on enjoying my football and my life.
What does success look like for you this season? What do you want to look back on at the end of the year and be satisfied with?
Hopefully I can be like Jack Graham and have a premiership after about five games, although hopefully I would have played more than five. Everyone wants to win a premiership, but hopefully I can keep playing my role and cement my spot in the side, because it’s a good group to be playing with and we have an unbelievable bond together. I want to play games, and then the ultimate goal like everyone else is to play in a flag.
Thanks for taking the time to chat.