Patrick Dangerfield is at the top of his game, willing his teammates towards a premiership that has so far proven elusive for the 2016 Brownlow medallist.
Dangerfield led the way for the Cats in their defeat to Collingwood with 32 possessions and a goal.
Not far behind was Tim Kelly who, after a slow start last Friday night, worked his way into the game to finish with 28 touches and a goal.
Kelly is a silky smooth player, a one touch player who can kick accurately on both sides of the body.
The clash against the Eagles is an intriguing one for the 25-year-old, who has taken the AFL by storm since his selection at pick number 24 in the 2017 draft by Geelong as a mature age recruit.
Kelly’s quest to play in the AFL commenced with his registration for the 2012 draft after an injury-ridden season playing with the South Fremantle colts side, who won the premiership that year.
He debuted for the Bulldogs league team in the 2013 WAFL season and maintained the desire to play AFL football. But at the end of each year until 2017 it was the same story – interest was shown but no thank you.
Although Kelly was overlooked in five successive AFL drafts he never lost the desire or belief that he would one day make it in the AFL.
But he readily admits he had self-doubt. As he told an online industry media outlet, during the five years he spent at South Fremantle before finally being recruited by Geelong: “Not a day went past during that time where I didn’t get told: ‘You’re going to make it, you just have to believe it Tim.’
“But telling yourself that in the mirror, and believing it, are two very different things.”
After each unsuccessful draft experience, only Kelly’s determination to succeed, his love of football and the support he received from his partner Caitlin and his parents kept him going.
It was tough, not only dealing with the repeated disappointment, but the demands of playing football at a senior WAFL level, working full time as an electrician and being a father to a young child.
Kelly was waking up daily at 5am to attend to his day job, then rushing off to football training and not returning home until 8pm most weeknights, just before bed time for his son.
In season 2017, after a great pre-season, Kelly’s football went to a higher level. If he wasn’t selected in the draft that year, after finishing runner up in the Sandover Medal to teammate Haiden Schloithe, the self-doubts would have risen to a new level, particularly as he was by then 23.
On November 24, 2017, the day of the 2017 AFL draft, Geelong changed the life of Kelly forever.
Kelly was signed on a standard two-year draftee contract with the Cats.
He had to report to pre-season training while a pregnant Caitlin remained in Perth. Fortunately, the twins were born when Kelly was back in Perth for the Christmas-New Year holiday period.
Soon after Caitlin joined Kelly in Geelong, with the twins only four weeks old.
Kelly made his senior debut in the first game of the 2018 season in a three-point win against Melbourne at the MCG. He took to the hightest level of football as he was always meant for it, picking up the AFL Players’ Association Best First Year Player, as voted by his fellow players.
But while Kelly quickly acclimatised to the tempo, it was a different story on the home front.
Back in Perth, Kelly and Caitlin had great family support. Not having that same support in Geelong has been very hard on the couple, as they have three children under three, with one diagnosed with autism and another child having to see a ENT specialist and requiring surgery.
At the end of last season, Kelly requested a trade to West Coast. His manager Anthony van der Wielen stated that Kelly was not interested in playing with Fremantle for reasons never fully explained but presumably due to a perceived cultural problem at the club.
Anyhow, despite negotiations between the Cats and Eagles going on until near the trade deadline, the deal could not be done and Kelly remained a Cat.
On the home front, things improved with Kelly’s cousin moving over to Geelong to help with the domestic chores and providing much needed family support.
But although Geelong are reputedly prepared to offer Kelly a contract which will put him into the top three or four renumerated players down at the Cattery, rumours still persist that Kelly wants out at the end of the season, with the Eagles still being his destination of choice.
So this Friday night we have a situation where Cat Kelly will be doing his best to keep his side in the premiership hunt by defeating the team that he appears to desperately want to play with next year.
If the Eagles are victorious, it will be somewhat bitter for Geelong, the club that showed faith in Kelly when many others didn’t, if he was to leave to join a club that had just knocked them out of this year’s finals.
Football can be full of irony and injustice.
Tony Buti is the Member for Armadale, an author and keen football follower
Tony Buti is the state member for Armadale, a published author and keen football follower.