The Tim Kelly stand off. Should the Cats let him go?

Tim Kelly’s request to be traded to the West Coast Eagles has mouths watering in Perth but the move the move across the Nullabor has been complicated by stern negotiations down at Geelong.

After a breakout debut season, in which Kelly tested selection at All-Australian level, polled strongly in the Brownlow Medal, and tied for second in the Cats’ Best and Fairest award, the midfielder’s desire to don the blue and gold transformed the conclusion of the Eagles’ season from unbelievable to impeccable.

However, if Kelly was hoping for a simple departure process to eventuate, the response from Geelong’s list management team has suggested otherwise.

Geelong’s list manager, Stephen Wells declared the Cats would only be open to trading Kelly if the Eagles can produce, at minimum, a top ten draft pick in return. No doubt Kelly’s 2018 season in which he oozed class and maturity warrants the dangling of a golden carrot but the reasons for his will to exit don’t do Wells’ request justice.

Kelly wants to return to Western Australia for family reasons. It as a plain and simple as that. This deal isn’t about financial incentives or the hunger to play in front of bigger crowds, nor is it a ploy to win a premiership medallion. All Tim Kelly wants is to be closer to his family, his friends and his home state of Western Australia.

It’s often in situations like this that list managers and supporters alike lose sight of the fact footballers are human too. Many will be quick to criticise Kelly for a lack of commitment, or perhaps even a sense of disloyalty in abandoning the club that gave him a chance at AFL level. Regardless of these views, Kelly is entitled to seek the pleasure of living in his home state and raising his young family in an environment he is familiar with. Despite news reports that would lead you to believe otherwise, this is not a new development.

The urge to return home is not foreign amongst AFL players across the land. Ironically, Geelong has recently been the recipient of two decent homesick footballers in Patrick Dangerfield and Gary Ablett. In both cases, Ablett and Dangerfield weren’t chasing the big dollars; they were chasing the joy of Geelong’s environment and the opportunity to be closer to family and friends.

When the Gold Coast Suns and Adelaide tried to play hardball with Geelong when both players were on the trade table, the Cats labelled such discussion as unsavoury and inappropriate in the context of the circumstances attached to the trade requests.

The Geelong Football Club raised a fair point. If a player wants to return home due to personal circumstances, then a trade should be facilitated between the opposing clubs with relative ease. This is not to say that Gold Coast or Adelaide didn’t deserve due compensation for their respective losses – it’s that they didn’t deserve a bountiful return.

Both the Suns and Crows were eventually forced to settle for a bundle of first, second and third round picks in return for releasing their star players.

While some may argue a first year player like Kelly, who committed to a two year contract, should see it through, every AFL enthusiast must remember things change in life, just as they do in football circles.

Geelong needs to remove the value element of Kelly as a footballer from the equation. Yes, the club is bound to lose a player with the potential to be a star, but that is simply on the back of an emotional desire to play his football somewhere else. Why is wanting to live and play football in the city you grew up in such a cause of concern? And why was it not such a concern when Ablett and Dangerfield wanted to do the same.

If Kelly’s first season had been lacklustre at best, it’s doubtful the Cats would be demanding a draft pick of any description in return. Hypocrisy is sweeping clubs and players across the AFL.

In Kelly’s case, Geelong’s staunch stance at the trade table is a contrasting image to last year when Ablett’s services were up for grabs.

The story is completely different when players chase the spoils of higher salaries at other clubs. Had Andrew Gaff chosen to head to North Melbourne, West Coast would have had a right to show displeasure and a strong sense of anger.

On the other hand, Tim Kelly’s circumstances demand maturity, acceptance and compassion from the Geelong Football Club.

The list management team should not place unattainable negotiation terms at the trade table that will see the Kelly trade be difficult to facilitate.

Not only will such a move place an unfair emotional burden on Kelly, but it will also fracture the relationship between Tim, his teammates, and the Cats as a whole. Imagine a Tim Kelly pulling on the hoops for Geelong in 2019 after unjust trade negotiations had fallen through? It’s fair to say the gifted number 11 would likely be hampered by resentment and disappointment at the club for not letting his justified wishes be granted. It’s also fair to say that his performance would suffer. Do you perform better or worse in your profession when you don’t feel you’ve been treated fairly?

Over the next week and a bit, the powerbrokers down at Kardinia Park have a choice. They can try to squeeze every pick and player out of the West Coast Eagles to see a potential trade dissolve into nothing but hostile discussions and untenable demands, or they can work with Kelly and the Eagles in a manner that eases the anxiety Kelly faces during the trade period and ultimately fulfils a trade which sees him return to the west.

In weighing up the result of a Tim Kelly trade, Geelong may indeed come out as the ‘loser’ in the short scheme of things, but this isn’t about winning or losing. It’s not about losing a particular skill set or some run and carry. It’s not about losing a bit of class in the midfield. It’s about helping a strong performer at your football club reach a destination that suits him, his family and ultimately his life away from football.

In the interest of compassion and doing the right thing, let’s hope Geelong choose the latter.

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