How an AFL reject used tagging to reinvent his career

GWS Giants star Matt de Boer has revealed how he deliberately coveted a role as a tagger for GWS this season, adamant it was his best ticket to dominating at AFL level.

FOR every Brownlow-winning superstar there has to be a blue-collar battler behind the scenes.

But a funny thing has happened at the GWS Giants this year, where the bloke under the hood with the greasy elbows has become the headline act.

Matt de Boer’s job is to nullify the opposition’s biggest star, and by doing so to almost brutal perfection, the 29-year-old has become one himself.

Matt de Boer has found a new life as a tagger at the Giants. Picture: Getty Images
Matt de Boer has found a new life as a tagger at the Giants.

Many are called but few are chosen in the unglamorous role of the AFL tagger.

Good looking blokes destined for careers as board directors might not fit the usual stereotype of the working class tagger, but don’t be fooled.

In de Boer’s case, he personally went to the club in the pre-season and declared his desire to dedicate himself to the dark arts of tagging.

It’s elevated him from fringe player possibly on his last chance, to arguably the most important man on the field in tonight’s elimination final against Brisbane at the Gabba.

Clean-cut off the field and ferocious on it: Matt de Boer is The Equaliser.

“I spent the whole pre-season on the wing and at half-forward and I just planted the seed to (Giants assistant) Lenny Hayes a couple of times. I said, ‘if you want to go for a run-with job, I’m your man,’” says de Boer.

“It was the only way I saw I could get into the midfield with our star-studded line-up.

“A week from round one we had an intra-club game. (Lenny) called me up and said, ‘don’t say anything, but do you want to try and tag Cogs (Stephen Coniglio) tomorrow?’

“I said, ‘give him to me’.”

It took Coniglio a few minutes to figure out one of his close mates was on a mission to terrorise him. De Boer calls the match-up a draw but in the mind of coach, Leon Cameron, it was convincing enough to shape a new way to play.

In the early years the Giants were a team with 22 kids who all wanted to be stars. But you can’t win premierships without role players and de Boer is the epitome of what GWS needed.

“I want to win. I want to win games of football and to do that we need people to play their role,” he says.

“I think the New England Patriots say it over and over again — ‘do your job.’

“I know that’s my job and I’m more than happy to do it.

“Moving to Sydney is probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

De Boer’s future in the AFL looked uncertain when he was cut loose by Fremantle at the end of 2016, but the fact he has signed two separate contract extensions this year says it all about what kind of season he’s had in the eyes of the GWS hierarchy.

De Boer’s fearsome reputation was sealed back in round 3 when he executed a masterclass in tagging on Dustin Martin, driving the Richmond superstar to brain explosion after brain explosion.

In last weekend’s elimination final, he suffocated Western Bulldogs ace Marcus Bontempelli to just a handful of touches.

Tonight he’s likely to go after Lions Brownlow hope, Lachie Neale, and you can assume he might have put a call into one of the AFL’s greatest ever taggers — Ryan Crowley — who taught him the craft back at Fremantle.

“Crowls and I still speak every now and then. He still gives me some of his notes. He’s been a good resource for me,” he says.

“Lenny and I will sit down and watch the last two or three games or any particular games of note and just try and break down the (opposition) players’ MO, their tendencies and try to put a strong plan in place for that.

“I think the attention to detail and the relentless nature of it is important. It’s a skill you can work on like any other.”

MATT DE BOER OPPONENTS

Dustin Martin — limited to 10 disposals

Tim Kelly — limited to 5 disposals

Seb Ross — limited to 17 disposals

Jaeger O’Meara — limited to 6 disposals

Patrick Cripps — limited to 6 disposals

Clayton Oliver — limited to 12 disposals

Davis Swallow — limited to 8 disposals

Ben Cunnington — limited to 8 disposals

Marcus Bontempelli — limited to 14 disposals

Swallow — 8 disposals

Bontempelli — 8 disposals

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