Tim Kelly – The Flip Side

It’s a funny thing having other people write for the site these days. I read the articles and I often find myself nodding along in agreement. That’s the easy part – finding people whose views align with your own and helping them get their articles published.

But once in a while I find myself shaking my head, not in bemusement, but in staunch disagreement with what I’m reading. The points are usually still really valid, and at times those points are made much better than any I would make to counter them. However, my point of view remains to the contrary.

We had one of those instances this morning.

In his first column of what I hope will be many for The Mongrel Punt, Robert Abrahams wrote about Tim Kelly’s desire to go home, and play for the West Coast Eagles in 2019. It was a point well made, with Rob’s assertation being that Geelong should be as accommodating as possible to Kelly’s desires, given he was wanting to go back to Western Australia for family reasons. He alluded to the fact that some things are simply bigger than football, and as a man with a family, I found it difficult to argue. I know that if I was unhappy in my job (more so than I am currently), my family would be pushing me to find something different. They’re a bit like that, you see…family comes first.

On the surface, I agree with Rob’s sentiment. The need for support around a young family is vitally important, particularly with three children under four years old. Still, something didn’t sit quite right with me.

The response to the article was passionate, with supporters of both Geelong and West Coast chiming in with why Kelly’s departure should be expedited, or why he should be made to see out the duration of his contract.

I found myself leaning toward the latter, and after giving it more thought, I began feeling quite strongly about it.

You see, this isn’t the football ‘friendship’ or the football ‘family’. This is the football BUSINESS, and Kelly, like it or not, nominated for the National Draft, knowing full well that he may be taken by any one of 18 clubs in any part of the country (except Tasmania… sorry guys). He understood that there was absolutely no guarantee he’d be picked up by a Western Australian club. He knew the risks, and he nominated anyway.

Lo and behold, he was taken by Geelong, who took a punt on him with the 24th pick. Now, it must be pointed out that West Coast had a selection at 21, and passed on Kelly in favour of Oscar Allen.  They also had pick 13, where they took Jarrod Brander, and Fremantle had picks 2 and 5, where they selected Andrew Brayshaw and Adam Cerra.

Four chances in the top 21 picks to secure the services of Tim Kelly, and both Western Australian clubs passed on him.

But the Cats pounced, and at pick 24, they nabbed themselves a star in the making.

West Coast then had pick 26 where they picked a kid called Liam Ryan, and then at 32 they named Brayden Ainsworth. By the way, the name ‘Brayden’ is becoming far too common in the AFL at the moment – please remove three. No, I am not a crackpot.

Yes, we’ve heard the talk that the Eagles were going to select Kelly with one of their picks – which one? The Liam Ryan pick? Really? With the benefit of hindsight, are you sure that’s a good move? Maybe they would’ve gambled on Kelly instead of Ainsworth? But that would mean picks by Richmond, GWS x2, Melbourne x 2, and Carlton would’ve had to have ignored Kelly completely for him to fall to them. It was a huge gamble to make.

It did not play out the way they would’ve liked.

Regardless, Kelly got to live the dream and pull on an AFL jumper. In one of the more impressive first years in the game, he came within a whisker of winning the Geelong Best and Fairest. It was an amazing debut season from a man who’d waited, what is in football-terms, an age for the opportunity. He didn’t let it slip by, grasping it with two hands and refusing to let it go. So good was he, that a place in the All-Australian squad of 40 couldn’t have been that far off.

But the young man living his dream wasn’t happy.

You see, moving across the country, even to fulfil a dream, is bloody hard work. Football is one thing, but re-establishing a young family in a new provincial city is something completely different. Kelly was a stranger in a strange land at Geelong, and though his teammates, the club and the entirety of Geelong embraced him, Kelly was being pulled home by those closest to him.

What was a man to do?

As the AFL season concluded and the West Coast Eagles held aloft the premiership cup, Kelly’s mind was made up. He was going to ask Geelong to explore the opportunity to trade him “home”… to the West Coast Eagles.

And herein lies the problem.

There are two teams in Western Australia, and as Prince fan, I have to say, I dig when the team in purple is up and about. Sadly, for them at least, “up and about” does not describe where they’re at currently. With the Dockers about to lose their reigning best and fairest, and coming off a season where they won eight games (six of which were played at home, which means they were horrid away from Optus Stadium), the Dockers were a less attractive proposition for Kelly.

But they’re still “home”, right? They’re still in Western Australia, and still close to family. To state that he wants to go home, and then only nominate the team with the premiership medallions and the best chance of the two pulling it off again is like telling a half truth.

Or a lie.

He wants to go home, but only if home can be part of the team that’s winning? So is home really that important? Or is there something else at play here?

Many have been scathing of Geelong for standing in the way of Kelly’s return home, demanding a top ten pick to make a trade with the Eagles work. It may just be bluster, but the fact remains, the Eagles simply do not have a top ten pick. Fremantle does. West Coast don’t even have a first round pick to play with; their compensation pick for the loss of Scott Lycett, at number 20 being their first selection. How they’re going to craft a deal for Kelly when the asking price is so high is beyond me.

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But this is far from ideal for Geelong, either. I am not even sure that if there was some room to move from Kelly’s camp, that a deal could be worked out with Fremantle. They have pick six, which I believe to be overs for Kelly, and they’ll most likely obtain pick five from Brisbane for Lachie Neale. Would you give up one of those picks for Kelly whose contract expires next year?

I sure as hell wouldn’t.

For mine, Kelly is worth a pick in the 10-15 range. When you look at Dangerfield leaving the Crows, it cost Geelong pick nine, and a player who’ll become a football footnote someday. Kelly is no Dangerfield – he does not have the track record to suggest that he’ll be able to replicate the success he had this season wherever he lines up next year. Geelong may be blustering and stamping their feet, but we know the tactic. It’s the same when you’re selling a car – you always start high so you can bargain down to what you’ll accept. I am sure they’d take a pick in the low teens if it were available.

The problem is – that pick simply isn’t there.

Jarrod Brander has been floated as a potential trade for Kelly. A Victorian boy, he may well welcome the chance to head back east, but you could understand the Eagles’ reluctance to part with him. He’d be my target if I were Stephen Wells.

Geelong have to play hardball here. They have no choice. If West Coast truly wants to get their talons on Tim Kelly, they’ll have to pay to do so. Whether it be some shrewd move to obtain a pick in the teens, a future first rounder, or parting with a player with the potential of Brander, there is no free hit here that’ll land you Tim Kelly.

Many talked about how Gold Coast shouldn’t have blinked when Richmond wanted Tom Lynch. Should they have matched the offer and forced a trade? I was hoping they would, but instead they reaped the benefits in the form of Corey Ellis and Anthony Miles for next to nothing. It was a business decision.

And that’s how the Cats are treating this. They took the risk. They made the right move, and now they should reap any rewards of a want-away player trying to get “home”. The contract Kelly signed was for two years – not one.

Rob Abrahams might have said that Geelong should put the value of Tim Kelly aside and realise that this is a family matter. I’m firmly in the opposite camp.

Tim Kelly should realise that when he was drafted by Geelong, he stopped just playing footy and started competing professionally in the AFL.

Make no mistake, for all its shortcomings, the AFL is still a business, and you don’t get anything for nothing.

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