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Meet Stephen Coniglio - The mask-wearing Aussie Rules superstar with an affinity for Portsmouth
Stephen Coniglio is one of the best midfielders in the AFL, but it is the world game that he truly loves.
While Coniglio was born and raised in Western Australia before moving to Sydney when he was drafted by the Giants with pick No. 2 in the 2011 AFL Draft, his mum is from England’s south-coast and has Pompey blood coursing through her veins.
The 27-year-old makes an almost yearly pilgrimage to Fratton Park at the end of the AFL season, stopping by northern Italy to watch The Old Lady as often as possible.
And while Aussie Rules is renowned as being one of the most exciting sports in the world, players aren’t known for producing NFL style celebrations after pivotal plays or running to the corner flag to celebrate a 90th-minute winner. After all, there isn’t a corner flag in AFL!
But Coniglio has become known for producing one of the most iconic celebrations in Australian sport, a masked homage to one of his favourite Juventus players - Paulo Dybala.
Speaking on the BT Sport AFL Podcast, Coniglio explained why he started using that celebration and the origins behind the Argentinian star’s mask.
“About three years ago I did my ankle, came back from it and did it again, and needed to have another operation on it,” Coniglio told BT Sport.
“I was in hospital and had to stay overnight and was watching a Juventus game on my laptop and was facetiming my little brother - he loves Juventus as well. Dybala scored and did the Dybala mask.
“It was one of the first times he’d done it and I was on the phone to my brother and he looked it up. I told him when I came back the first goal I kick, I’d do it for him. It kind of stuck after that.
“A lot of Juventus supporters started to catch on to it. Obviously, it’s his and it’s not my celebration, but the origins behind it is what fascinated me and made me want to do it.
“Dybala, in his own words, explained that sometimes you have to wear a mask almost similar to a gladiator.
“Footballers – or anyone in any profession – they’re seen at work and work for us is playing on the weekend and people judge you for two hours and they don’t know the personal struggles or professional struggles you’re going through.
“For that two hours on the weekend we have to use that strength. I love that and that’s why I do it.”
Coniglio emerged as one of the best players in the AFL in 2019, before suffering a season-ending knee injury late in the year which forced him to miss Greater Western Sydney’s run to the Grand Final.
Since then the West Australian has turned his back on godfather offers from Carlton and Hawthorn to sign a mega seven-year deal to remain loyal to the Giants, before becoming the first solo captain in the history of the expansion club.
If the Giants are to put a difficult 2020 campaign behind them this season, many expect the skipper to drag them back up the ladder and back into premiership contention.
Watch GWS' season-opener against St Kilda from 4am on Sunday 21 March, live on BT Sport 2 HD.