Slow-burn Giant finally making his mark

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IN A world where key defenders are commanding multi-million-dollar contracts, marking prowess in the back half is high on recruiters’ radars.

Last year Jake Lever crossed to Melbourne on what is believed to be a four-year contract worth more than $3million.

Twelve months on, Eagle Jeremy McGovern is just about able to write his own cheque as a 25-year-old free agent.

Both are intercept marking stars – but key defenders who can mark, run and pinpoint passes over 50m? They’re rare.

And such players who slip to pick 85 in the NAB AFL Draft are grown in a club’s own backyard and take four years to be noticed by the competition. There are few of them.

When Giant Jeremy Finlayson made his debut last year in the round 15 draw against Geelong and collected four handballs before a knee injury, not many outside the 1000 or so locals from NSW farming town Culcairn would have batted an eyelid.

Now, with three games to his name, the 22-year-old tall has slotted seamlessly into a back half directed by co-captain Phil Davis and Heath Shaw, and doesn’t look like going anywhere.

After he picked up 19 and 23 disposals in wins against Western Bulldogs and Collingwood, his magnet will be starting to move up the reckoning in opposition team meetings.

“We’re really proud because it’s just one of those young kids that had to earn his stripes and it’s taken him four years to get to where he gets to,” coach Leon Cameron said on Saturday.

“He has this ability to mark the footy, he has this ability to spoil the footy really well, but equally he’s got a deadly left foot which we’ve seen on display the last two games.

“To start 2018 in the manner he has, especially at the MCG, was terrific.”

There were 74 players taken before Finlayson in the 2014 NAB AFL Draft – including five by the Giants, none of whom remain.

And while Paul Ahern (North Melbourne), Pat McKenna (Melbourne), Jack Steele (St Kilda), Jarrod Pickett and Caleb Marchbank (Carlton) ply their trades at new homes, Cameron is happy with the one that’s left.

“It’s a great story. Most AFL lists, you’ve got 44 or 45 players on the list and you always want to look at a rookie or two to give them two or three years to develop,” he said.

“He was probably one of those ones who slipped through or probably wasn’t rated as highly as some.”

Cameron praised the Giant’s defensive flexibility in Saturday’s win, Finlayson defying his 196cm height to man agile former GWS men Adam Treloar and Will Hoskin-Elliott.

Three years in the NEAFL team, including the 2016 premiership, has prepared him to replace the injured Zac Williams and for life after Nathan Wilson, who departed for Fremantle last year.

“He’s played this kind of footy for a long time, it’s just been about putting it all together and finding a spot there,” teammate Lachie Whitfield told

“With Nathan and Zac there last year it was pretty hard to get in any more running defenders and he’s really taking his opportunity at the minute.”

Finlayson spent two years with the Giants academy after moving from Culcairn, a small country town you hit on the drive halfway between Albury and Wagga Wagga.

This year will be his sixth year at the Giants, one in which he comes out of contract.

Fellow defenders Davis, Shaw, Nick Haynes, Adam Tomlinson and Aidan Corr – who Whitfield described as “a small family” – are all signed for beyond 2018 and there’s one signature that remains for sustained success.

A contract for the farmer from the seventh round of the 2014 draft is next on the agenda for new list boss Jason McCartney and his team before he becomes the next Lever or McGovern.

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