By Lance Jenkinson
The football careers of Nick Haynes and Lachie Whitfield have a strange habit of intersecting.
While they took vastly different pathways through the Dandenong Stingrays’ system – Haynes returning as a 19-year-old after quitting football at 14, and Whitfield anointed as the next big thing almost from the outset – it all led to the same destination: selection at the AFL draft.
The same club – GWS Giants – read out the names of Haynes and Whitfield, albeit in different drafts.
They linked up as teammates, with Haynes taking on a big brother approach with Whitfield when he first arrived, and both became vital members of the GWS team.
It is only fitting that Haynes and Whitfield would share the Giants’ highest individual honour, the Kevin Sheedy Medal, in 2020.
Haynes, the older of the two at 28, has long been one of the AFL’s most dependable defenders.
It is the elite traits in his game – intercept marking and rebounding out of defensive 50 – that have elevated him to club champion status.
Who better to shine a light on Haynes’ career than Whitfield, the 26-year-old who has looked up to him from the time they were teammates as teenagers with the Stingrays.
“To watch him go underrated for a long time and not get the respect he deserved sort of irked me a bit, so it’s an amazing honour to be able to share this with him,” Whitfield said.
“I couldn’t be happier.
“I’m probably more glad we’ve shared it [the award] than anything else.”
The medal was the mark of respect that Haynes’ career deserved.
He has evolved into a great leader for the Giants, but he knows it is a two-way street, benefitting from the systems and people in place at the club.
Haynes is able to pass on his knowledge because the likes of Phil Davis and Heath Shaw were willing to guide him in the right direction.
“It’s a great honour being at his club,” Haynes said on the night of the best and fairest.
“The footballer I’ve become wouldn’t be possible without a lot of people in this room and a lot of people that have left this room as well.
“I’m forever grateful for all those people that have helped me along the way, the coaches, the backline with Phil [Davis] and ‘Shawry’ [Heath Shaw].
“Congratulations ‘Shawry’ on a wonderful career, you’ve helped me so much in my football, as well as Phil Davis.”
Haynes has unfinished business with the Giants.
After playing in a losing grand final against Richmond in 2019, the fire burns in the belly to get back to the biggest stage of all.
“I’m really looking forward to the years to come because we’re a successful club and we’re going to be a successful club into the future,” he said.
“We’ve got the people, we’ve got the heart and we’ve got the culture, so I’m really looking forward to the next few years and playing finals footy and winning that premiership.”
Whitfield took out a historic second Kevin Sheedy Medal.
He, too, remarked about how bright the future is for the Giants – one he wants to see a flag in.
Being the elder of the two Stingrays, Haynes had a big impact on Whitfield from the moment he arrived in Sydney – something that Whitfield has appreciated.
“We’ve got a long history together [from the] Dandenong days,” Whitfield said.
“Coming up here and taking me under the wing as soon as I got here… he was definitely a comforting factor for me.”
Haynes did not need long to be convinced of Whitfield’s potential – only one training session, actually.
“Whitfield was 16 at the time, a little chubby gut he had, and I thought this kid is no good, surely,” Haynes said.
“Then I saw him out on the training track and he was unbelievable.
“I knew from the first training session he was going to go number one draft pick.
“When he was first drafted to the Giants, I was thrilled to have him there because I knew the player he was going to be and the player he was going to become.”
Giants coach Leon Cameron paid tribute to the pair of former Stingrays on their outstanding 2020 seasons.
“Nick has been a stalwart of our backline for years now and has always been incredibly highly-valued internally with two top-five finishes [in the Sheedy Medal] before this year,” he said.
“He’s once again taken his game to another level this year and thoroughly deserves the accolades that have come his way.
“Lachie became the first player in our history to win two Sheedy medals after another ultra-consistent season.
“Taking on an official leadership role ahead of this season shows his development off the field and on the field.
“We saw Lachie continue to show his class and work rate across the entire season.”