Leon Cameron was never driving a Ferrari, instead he steered a Commodore to success

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THE IN-SEASON AFL coaching replacement was once a move reserved for complete disaster, like a string of unpalatable losses, or a public and damaging spat between coach and his club's executive.

Leon Cameron's departure as Greater Western Sydney coach after this week's game against Carlton certainly isn't that. Indeed, it feels pretty similar to Nathan Buckley's mid-season finish to his Collingwood coaching stint last year. Amicable enough, and a natural enough conclusion to a union that has clearly run its course.

Cameron's post-announcement news conference on Thursday morning reflected that goodwill from either side. Not all coach-club relationships need to end in tears, and in the realms of these sorts of news events, this one was decidedly upbeat and good-humoured.

Nonetheless, the writing was on the wall for Cameron once talks on renewing his contract were deferred until the end of the season, the message clear that the Giants would come back to their old faithful, only if they couldn't find a newer, shinier toy at the shops.

And with any prospective senior AFL coaching appointment right now, the name Alastair Clarkson looms large as the biggest, shiniest toy possible in those shopping expeditions.

With Cameron's position far from the only coaching role under scrutiny in 2022, the Clarkson question stands as a potential floodgate to a veritable coaching merry-go-round.

And were Clarkson to end up at the Giants (and you still suspect the AFL would prefer he had a crack at Gold Coast) it would be a good test of Cameron's coaching legacy as well as his own. Because just how good a coach Cameron has been is a question which divides opinion more than most.

Did Cameron not do enough with a list which for at least a couple of seasons (2016-17) was in terms purely of talent probably the best in the AFL? Or has he been a steady hand at the wheel of a team and club facing unique challenges and which often hasn't had a lot of luck? I tend more towards the latter school of thought.

Cameron's record reads 192 games coached for 101 wins, 87 losses and four draws, a strike rate of 53.65 per cent. In eight-and-a-bit seasons, he's led GWS to a Grand Final, three preliminary finals, and five top eight finishes. The Giants have only missed the top eight once over the past six completed seasons.

That consistency in fronting up to the finals challenge is a tick. The win-loss strike rate of 53.65 not so much. It's a significantly lower percentage than Cameron's current peers, Chris Scott, John Longmire and Adam Simpson all batting above 60, Ken Hinkley 59, Damien Hardwick and Luke Beveridge above 56.

Of that half-dozen peers, though, only Longmire has experienced the unique challenges of being senior coach of a club in a non-traditional football environment. And the Swans had long been established both as a fixture in Sydney and a well-run operation when Longmire became coach.

When Cameron took over from Sheedy, GWS had only existed as an AFL team for two seasons. In what had been until then virgin territory for Australian football.

More significantly, with the spectre of all the club's rivals constantly attempting to poach the Giants' best talents, a seemingly never-ending exodus of stars that never allowed GWS to compete with a completely stable senior list. And often, over the last few seasons, a long injury list consistently stacked with key players.

Cameron and Chris Scott are the only two coaches to have led their teams to finals wins in five of the last six seasons. They've won their share against the odds, too, a couple of times over their local rival, the Swans, and two on the road against Brisbane, then Collingwood en route to that 2019 Grand Final appearance.

GWS was far from the second-best team of 2019, and was promptly smashed by a far superior Richmond outfit on Grand Final day.

That probably made things tougher for Cameron in 2020 as a consequence, expectations perhaps surpassing the level of which his team was capable, injuries, COVID-19, hub life all taking a toll, the damage laid bare in the travails of Giants' skipper Stephen Coniglio and his team in the "Making Their Mark" documentary.

Cameron didn't emerge that well from the documentary, painted as a bit too old school and rigid both in terms of his approach to coaching and his relationships with his players. How many of his peers, though, would look similarly uninspiring confronted with as perfect a storm of mishaps as GWS confronted that season?

A more mature assessment would be to see that nightmare as a blip in what has been an otherwise consistently competitive tenure. It shouldn't be lost on critics, either, that far from the "Ferrari" the Giants list was portrayed as at it best during 2016-17, Cameron has been driving far more of a "Commodore".

Negotiating that great a change not only in personnel, but in the entire dynamic of a playing group is no small challenge. It would have been easy for that Ferrari to give up the ghost as key parts of the engine were lost. Instead, the Giants became a decidedly more blue collar outfit with, last season at least, a far more resilient profile.

It will be intriguing to see how other clubs view Cameron when coaching positions become available. There are "sexier" names in the coaching world. And the lower profile of GWS hasn't helped Cameron create a bigger persona in the public eye.

But anyone who knows him knows he is a very personable and likeable man, with a good sense of humour, a sharp mind and you'd think in coaching terms, an appetite still unfulfilled. Those qualities served the Giants well enough. And at a club with fewer of the sorts of obstacles GWS always seemed up against, they could be even handier assets still.

You can read more of Rohan Connolly's work at FOOTYOLOGY.com.au