Kennedy piles on selection pressure

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AFL: GWS were given a huge scare by the last-placed Essendon who ended up running out winners by 27 points.

Matthew Kennedy (left) of the Giants is embraced by his friend Braydon Ambler of Collingullie Football Club after the Round 13 AFL match between the Essendon Bombers and the GWS Giants at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, Sunday, June 19, 2016. (AAP Image/Julian Smith) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

MATTHEW Kennedy debuted as a seat-filler for an AFL great, but on the strength of one stunning performance has emerged as an irreplaceable cog in the Giants’ top four push.

GWS coach Leon Cameron has guaranteed the 19-year-old will keep his place for Saturday’s clash against Carlton, even though Steve Johnson, whose shoes he was keeping warm, is expected back.

There was an element of the sleeping Giants in last week’s narrow escape against Essendon, but Cameron has promised some cut-throat selection decisions this week that should eradicate any mid-season complacency once and for all.

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Three goals from academy product and gun draft pick Kennedy almost single-handedly saved the side’s blushes against the lowly Bombers, and aside from the quality of his first-up performance, the inspirational impact that the country kid from the tiny town of Collingullie has had on his teammates hasn’t been lost on Cameron.

Giants star Dylan Shiel might joke that the “simple” boy from the bush only discovered what an iPhone was earlier this month, but Kennedy’s no-holds-barred work ethic has stung teammates into action like a cattle prod.

“I expect him to play on the weekend. I’ve just got to be able to juggle the side around,” Cameron said.

“He’s very, very infectious for our group. He brings spirit and he brings confidence.

“He gave us the spark we were after (against Essendon) and kicked three goals … it was great for a first-gamer. He’s a likeable kid … and already one of the most popular on the back of six months at our footy club. That speaks volumes for him.”

Kennedy’s memorable debut was almost an exact replica of the Rising Star-nominated performance of Jacob Hopper in his first match against Gold Coast earlier in the season.

At other clubs, young talents are blooded and might take weeks to find their feet as they go up and down between grades.

Matthew Kennedy celebrates one of his three goals against Essendon last Sunday. Picture: Colleen Petch

Matthew Kennedy celebrates one of his three goals against Essendon last Sunday. Picture: Colleen PetchSource:News Corp Australia

But what has set the Giants apart this season is that when young stars are handed their opportunity, they grab it with both hands and don’t look back.

“It’s pretty impressive. My first game I got subbed off, so that’s how well I was going,” says fifth-year player Shiel.

“Jacob had 30-something possessions and Matty had three goals so they’re well ahead of some of us boys.

“He’s a hard worker and he’s had to bide his time this year. Like all our first-year boys, Matty is from the country and he’s a nice simple lad.

“He got his first iPhone last month so it’s a pretty exciting time for him!”

With Johnson, Mumford and Adam Kennedy all expected back from injury and Matt Kennedy assured his place — the squeeze is going to be on with at least two established players to lose their place.

But coach Cameron has declared his undying support for out-of-sorts namesake Jeremy Cameron up front.

The tall forward has kicked just four goals in his past four matches, with smalls Johnson, Kennedy and Toby Greene the ones putting the Giants on the scoreboard.

Cameron will rise again, according to his coach.

“There’s no doubt he’s not hitting the scoreboard as much as he’d possibly like … but off the ball he’s actually OK,” Leon Cameron said.

“(The talls) will have their day in the sun as long as they keep working at it. Jeremy is an important part of our footy club. His offence has gone down but surprisingly his defence has gone up. He’ll find that right balance with both.”

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