Geelong’s Steven Wells has a knack of finding some perfect mid-age recruits that fill little gaps in the ever-expanding Cats side.
With the likes of 2011 Premiership player James Podsiadly, and the recent Wells recruits Sam Menegola and Tom Stewart, it was no surprise when the name Tim Kelly was announced to the Geelong faithful.
Tim Kelly was part of a plan that, for many years now, has been successful for the Cats, due to the unusually high loss of the core 2009-2011 recruits.From the 2009 draft, only two of the drafted 10 players remain (Mitch Duncan 160 games and Daniel Menzel, who missed almost five years of football between 2011-2015) with Menzel only playing 63 games over nearly 10 years in the league.
Similarly, only Cam Guthrie and George Horlin-Smith are still playing for the Cats from the nine draftees selected in 2010.
From 2011, four players of the nine selected are currently playing football at the Cattery (Jordan Murdoch, Lincoln McCarthy, Jed Bews and Mark Blicavs).
Considering what the Cats gained over that time, they have little to show for their selections. The below players were drafted between 2009-2011 and no longer play for Geelong:
Allen Christensen (now at Brisbane Lions)
Trent West (went to Brisbane Lions)
Josh Walker (now at Brisbane Lions)
Nathan Vardy (now at West Coast, injured)
Dawson Simpson (now at GWS, injured)
Josh Cowan (long term injury)
Jeremy Laidler (St Kilda and Sydney)
Johnathon Simpkin (Hawthorn)
Darcy Lang (now at Carlton)
Shane Kersten (now at Fremantle)
Joel Hamling (Western Bulldogs and now at Fremantle)
Billie Smedts (went to Carlton)
That’s 27 total players drafted in that period, with only eight remaining. 29% of those prime mid-aged players are still on the Cats’ current list.
And of that list, the most consistent has been Mitch Duncan and only recently, Daniel Menzel.
A number of these players left due to injuries. In particular, Dawson Simpson and Nathan Vardy, who were recruited with the view of taking over from Brad Ottens, both struggled with multiple season-ending injuries.
This set Simpson and Vardy back personally, but also forced the Cats to find ‘quick-fix’ ruck men to fill their large holes until they were fit to return.
It was the same story for wingman and midfielder Josh Cowan, who, only one year into his career, was placed on the long-term injury list. When he attempted his comeback, the game has progressed significantly and was almost ahead of him.
The other main reason for many draftee exits was due to lack of opportunity, especially during the Cats’ golden era from 2007-2011. Many of the younger players, like Billie Smedts, Joel Hamling and Josh Walker struggled to secure a consistent spot in a successful team, which caused them to search around for a better chance to stand out at another club.
Being one of the top sides in the competition was both a blessing and a curse for the Cats as their extended period of dominance meant their list was overflowing with potential talent but there were only 22 spots to fill on game day.
This isn’t what any team plans for and it’s what the Cats have struggled with for more than five years; finding, developing and then retaining those mid-aged players.
For years now in G-Town, the team dynamic and balance has been a juggle. Enough wins to make the finals each year but unable to find the balance to match it with the elite sides. Take 2016 as the prime example. The Preliminary Final Cats side was full of young inexperienced players (22- 44 games or less) like Cam Guthrie, Mark Blicavs and Jed Bews, mixed with the veterans of the game in Corey Enright (332 games) and Jimmy Bartel (305 games).
Mitch Duncan was really the only prime-aged player to be influential that year.
But in their strife, Steven Wells has come to the rescue. He has needed to fill the spots of those “could’ve been” 100-130 game players quickly and somehow, he’s done just that. He looks outside the box and doesn’t take the traditional path for recruiting, finding the local boy, the overlooked or the talented mid-aged gun, hiding in the AFL substructure.
And yes, while Wells does not have a 100% success rate, his numbers are extremely positive.
Wells is recruiting for the now at the Geelong Football Club, with the club’s premiership window still open and opportunities to stick around the final eight still well alive.
And that’s where 24-year-old Tim Kelly comes in.
Sixth time lucky, he was recruited to the Cats in the 2017 Draft in Round 2 at pick 24 overall, from South Fremantle.
Like Subiaco star Sam Menegola before him, also discovered by Wells, Kelly had an outstanding season with South Fremantle in 2017, where he came second in the prestigious Sandover Medal. Menegola finished third in the Sandover Medal one year before.
Wells had kept his eye on Kelly all year, eager to snatch the previously-overlooked apprentice electrician and knew that he would be able to fill one of the missing pieces in the Geelong side immediately.
Kelly’s averages for his first AFL season speak for themselves and further prove that Steven Wells knows exactly what he’s doing.
He averages 23.3 disposals, 3.2 marks, 5.8 score involvements and has booted 16 goals from the midfield, where he has slotted right in with arguably some of the best names in the game in Joel Selwood, Gary Ablett Junior and Patrick Dangerfield.
These statistics prove his worth in a rebuilding Cats side, but, even more than that, he’s putting himself up to be measured against the best in the AFL competition.
Kelly is averaging higher than most established high-level midfielders in the competition, which for the 20-gamer, is something to be immensely proud of.
If those stats don’t scream ‘hold onto me’ to Chris Scott and the Geelong recruitment team, what will?
While he’s still honing his craft at the highest level, it’s interesting to note similarities to some of Geelong’s previous champions. Kelly has the hardness of Joel Corey, the poise of Jimmy Bartel and even a touch of Stevie J’s magic.
That perfect mixture, at Kelly’s ripe age of 25, is something that all clubs look for and usually take a long time to find. Wells however, does not miss a beat when searching for that special addition.
And even the respected journalists and past players admire Kelly and the work of Steven Wells.
David King said that Kelly reminded him of a ‘young Daniel Wells’, while ex St Kilda star Lee Montagna believes Kelly is ‘all class’.
But with those praises comes the question of Kelly’s attachment to the Cats. While he is contracted to stay at Kardinia Park for one more year, there is now interest from West Coast and Fremantle, both sides who reside in Kelly’s home state and may suit his lifestyle and family requirements better.
It’ll be a question of loyalty versus pragmatism. Football is not a 30 year career, and Kelly’s window is significantly smaller due to his later start. And yes, while the Eagles and the Dockers seem appealing, Kelly must remember the team that gave him his break, who had the belief in him first. The Cats.
On the other hand, Kelly, who has been rejected by many AFL clubs for six gruesome years, should be seeking to live in the place where he, his partner and his young children are happy to settle down.
And if that means moving back home, where he and his family would be more comfortable, then the Cats will definitely cater to his needs, as they have done recently for players like Allen Christensen (Brisbane) and Shane Kersten (Fremantle).
Steven Wells’ magic touch has brought many great players, like Kelly, into the Geelong scene, but it’ll be too little too late if the Cats don’t make a move to keep Kelly down in Sleepy Hollow. Surely, they’ll be making plans and arrangements to cement him to the club, even if it means more money or more flexible conditions.
He’s speedy, skillful and full of good surprises. Kelly knows where to place himself and has already shown in only one season that he can match with the best of the game and plays like he’s been in the mix for five years.
It’s high time the Cats put their foot down to get exactly what they want. And what they want is Tim Kelly at the Cattery for many years to come.