If you want an experienced head for Grand Final week, then Heath Shaw may be your man. The 300-game veteran has been through this before. A few times. The two-time All Australian has three Grand Final appearances on his storied resume, and is a jocular presence and a calming voice at the Giants in a helter skelter Grand Final week.
"I've experienced all the Grand Final emotions - a win, a loss and a draw. Not many people can say that, but it is about enjoying the week and you can reflect on what you've done during the year to get to this point, which is great," a relaxed Shaw tells ESPN at the Giants' Homebush training facility.
"It's a great day to be a part of, and there's a lot of people and players at other clubs that are jealous of where you're at but you've got to understand that, at times, you have to be a little bit selfish this week, soak it all up enjoy the moment and once you cross that line on Saturday, it's all on the line."
For Shaw, it's been a hard road back to the big day. Traded away by the Pies late in 2013, Shaw arrived at a Giants team that had just finished its second season with a 1-21 record, staring down the reality of a callow list and that new club smell well and truly gone.
"When I first moved up here, playing in a premiership was a pipe dream. Coming from a big club like Collingwood to one just starting, it was a different sort of approach from me, I had to lower the expectations a little bit," he says. "But as the first year went on and this team got better, those expectations rose a bit, and to come so close a few times and not quite get to this position makes you even hungrier.
"It's great to be a part of and I'm wrapped that I made the decision to come up to the Giants all those years ago."
⬆️ The biggest thing each non-finalist needs to do to improve— footytips (@footytips) September 22, 2020
📉 The coach on top of the "Under Pressure Power Rankings"
🏆 The best players of the modern era not to win a flag
Stream the latest @ESPNAusNZ#AFL podcast here.https://t.co/jErj20I4QX
Shaw's arrival also coincided with a change at top as Leon Cameron took over the reins from Kevin Sheedy. On debut, Shaw was one of the best on ground as GWS shocked the Swans -- on Buddy's debut in red and white no less -- to take out a 32-point win on a stormy Sydney Saturday. It's fair to say the pair have not looked back since, regardless of how hard the road has been.
"To be led by Leon ... his belief has never wavered for a guy who obviously has got the most stressful job in the world, or one of 18 of the most stressful jobs in the world. And at times you can tell he's stressed and he gets frustrated with everything that's happening around the footballing world, but his belief in our group and where we can get to his never wavered. I think that holds the players in good stead," Shaw says.
"It's his (Leon's) leadership and obviously Tony Shepherd and Dave Matthews, their belief in where this club is and where we've got to, it's phenomenal and it's been great to be a part of. We're doing something new, we're creating something new, and as the years have gone on we've continued to build on that history, first into a preliminary final, and our into our first Grand Final it's another chapter.
"We've lost players along the way, but continued to develop and to establish the culture around thriving to succeed and trying to be your best up here ... that's built in the walls. We've done it the hard way, and in the early days I think players were gifted games and hadn't earnt them to a degree, but now we're a successful club and we're still building and you have to earn everything you've got. Nothing is for free."
From the AFL's whipping boys, to a powerhouse unit, to perceptions of favoritism. Shaw has seen it all in his six years in orange and grey, but it's just made the club stronger, and the success sweeter.
"There has been a lot of doubters out there around this club. What it's made from, what it's come from, what it's been gifted. But nothing is free. There are teams out there that haven't played finals for a long time. We're in our eighth year and played the last four finals series. We've worked hard to get to this position," Shaw tells ESPN.
Shaw has indicated the end is near for him. Either 2020 will see him hang up the boots or it could happen as soon as Saturday, if the result goes the Giants' way. Whatever happens, he's determined to silence the critics one last time.
"Oh my God could be it could be a fairytale ending to be honest! I suppose [at] the start of the finals campaign, not many gave us a chance, and that's the good thing about this group," he says.
"The inner belief has always been there, and up in Sydney, out in the west, you don't get much outside noise or support, so it was good to just go about our business. We knew where we really wanted to get to and how we wanted to get there and whatever personnel has been involved i think we've stayed pretty strong with that.
"I appreciate the fact that I get to go back to the MCG every once in a while, and I reflected a lot this year over my 300th, and this is a privileged position for me to be in to walk out there, and I'm very lucky, and I'll definitely soak it up when I get out there, but I know there's a big job to do. Now we've got a chance to make a bit of history."