After a 16-year journey to a top job, Adam Kingsley turned players to believers in mere minutes.
Last August, the new Greater Western Sydney coach greeted his senior core of Toby Greene, Josh Kelly and Stephen Coniglio.
“Honestly, the first conversation that we had with him, that I had with him, we walked away so, so excited,” Coniglio said.
“Going into an off-season, when you’re wanting to rest, it felt the opposite.
“It felt like he knew exactly what he wanted to do.”
Kingsley is the new Craig McRae, the mate he meets at the MCG in Friday night’s AFL preliminary final against Collingwood.
Like McRae’s buzzing transformation of the Magpies last year, Kingsley has turned also-rans into eye-catching contenders in his first season as head coach.
Kingsley and McRae shared a coaching box with Damien Hardwick in Richmond’s glory years, winning flags in 2019 and 2020.
And they shared similar paths to head coaching: Kingsley spent 16 years as an assistant, McRae 14, before taking the hottest seat.
“I’ve been clear in my aspirations to become a senior coach,” Kingsley said when given the Giants job.
“And over the last 16 years I’ve continued to learn and develop to the point now where I’m absolutely ready to take the next step in my coaching career.”
The early steps were unsteady.
In June, with his Giants struggling at 4-8, Kingsley wasn’t thinking finals, let alone a prelim.
“I knew that we had really good footy in us and I felt like we could be a very good team,” Kingsley said after Saturday’s away semi-final win against Port Adelaide.
“But you’re saying did I expect to make a prelim? No. Not this year anyway.”
But even during the darker days, Kingsley was feeling a shift. Coniglio and the players sensed it too.
“The whole team and the whole football club, it’s a wonderful place,” Coniglio said.
“When you’re winning games, it’s a lot easier. But it felt like that when we were losing games as well.
“Not only the players but the staff, right behind what we’re trying to do on the field.
“Kingers was able to bring them and the players and the staff back into falling in love with the club again … he’s been a solid pillar, for sure.”
Like McRae at Collingwood, Kingsley has pinched pages from Hardwick’s book of premiership heroes, with club unity the theme.
Since his playing career ended, the 48-year-old Kingsley has been soaking in a vast pool of AFL knowledge.
An inaugural Port Adelaide AFL squad member in 1997, and a premiership player in 2004, Kingsley was a model of consistency in 170 games mainly on a half-back flank.
But his career finished abruptly: he’d managed only five games in 2006 before damaging an anterior cruciate ligament in round 22, requiring a knee reconstruction.
Before the injury, Kingsley wanted to keep playing. Instead, he instantly pivoted to coaching.
His 2007 was the first of three seasons assisting head coach Mark Williams at Port, followed by a year under Matthew Primus.
Wanting to craft the most expansive of assistant coaching resumes, Kingsley moved to St Kilda under Ross Lyon, Scott Watters and Alan Richardson until 2018.
Then he joined Hardwick’s Richmond flag-bearers, alongside McRae.
Kingsley had been in the mix for several head coach roles before landing with the Giants.
After the early wobbles, GWS have morphed into a force, winning 11 of 13 games in a barnstorming style akin to McRae’s Magpies.
“We’re not trying to emulate their style, but we’re playing a very similar style,” forward Jesse Hogan said.
Kingsley and McRae are winning the need for speed, with their teams adding daring ball movement and finesse to Hardwick’s stamp of an all-ground pressure force.
“He’s a wonderful coach,” Coniglio said.
“Toby was an All-Australian captain and I hope Kingers wins coach of the year. He thoroughly deserves that.
“The one thing that is great to see is how he can include everyone and bring everyone along for the ride.”
Kingsley said the Giants have also added the priceless commodity of confidence as the first-year coach of the surprise packets prepares for the second-year coach of the new benchmark.