Geelong debutants Esava Ratugolea, Tim Kelly and Lachie Fogarty.
Geelong debutants Esava Ratugolea, Tim Kelly and Lachie Fogarty.

AFL worth the wait for Cat Kelly

Each time Tim Kelly was overlooked at a draft, his manager Anthony Van Der Wielen passed on the gut-wrenching feedback.

One recruiter wanted more consistency, another felt he didn't do enough damage with ball in hand.

But after Geelong snatched Kelly from the clutches of at least two rivals, several clubs are conducting post-mortems.

Kelly, 23, already looks a star in the making, setting the stats sheet alight with 27 possessions, a goal, six inside-50s and 13 contested touches against Melbourne.

As Kelly finally knocked off those rough edges in the WAFL last year, Carlton and West Coast began beating a path to his door.

But ultimately it was Geelong's Steven Wells who swooped at pick 24, which it secured from Gold Coast in the Gary Ablett trade.

Tim Kelly is mobbed by teammates after kicking his first AFL goal.
Tim Kelly is mobbed by teammates after kicking his first AFL goal.

Van Der Wielen once managed many of Perth's AFL stars, but the successful businessman has helped Kelly for free since he played juniors with his son as a 12-year-old.

He says by round five last year, Kelly's exploits at South Fremantle meant he was finally going to be drafted.

The question was by which AFL club.

 

"When he was 18 he missed the whole season with injury and didn't qualify for the state under-18s campaign,'' Van Der Wielen said.

"He came through the colts and by the time he was 21 he was playing regularly and just got better and better.

"(In 2016) he was really close to being drafted. West Coast agonised about taking him with the last pick in the rookie draft.

Geelong Round 1 debutants Esava Ratugolea, Tim Kelly and Lachie Fogarty.
Geelong Round 1 debutants Esava Ratugolea, Tim Kelly and Lachie Fogarty.

"Then by round four or five  last year every club wanted him. Carlton came over five or six times, West Coast was constantly calling, Freo were keen.

"Geelong didn't firm until three or four weeks before the draft."

Veteran recruiter Wells knew Kelly and partner Caitlin had a two-year-old with twins on the way but believed he would do anything to play AFL football.

As draft day approached, Kelly had finished second in the Sandover Medal, kicked seven goals in a Fremantle WAFL derby and was the WAFL's best clearance player.

"West Coast was definitely keen and had a cluster of picks (13, 21, 26, 32 and 38),'' Van Der Wielen said.

"I did say to them ideally it would be better for him to stay home, and Geelong had picks 24 and 28 and West Coast thought Geelong would take Tim with their second pick.

"They said, "We will get him before Geelong's second pick." I said, "I am not too sure."

"Geelong had spent a lot of time with him prior to the draft and sent a variety of people to speak with Tim's partner and family.

Tim Kelly with partner Caitlin Miller and son Tykeem. Picture: Daniel Wilkins
Tim Kelly with partner Caitlin Miller and son Tykeem. Picture: Daniel Wilkins

"Carlton only had pick 30 (Tom De Koning) and Fremantle's pick was later. And when Geelong took him he felt really comfortable from day one coming to Geelong."

West Coast would take key forward Oscar Allen at pick 21, then local excitement machine Liam Ryan with 26.

Former apprentice electrician Kelly has settled in Geelong with Caitlin and sons Tykeem, Tariq and Trey, the twins born on December 30.

Geelong has already asked about a contract extension, but Kelly is happy to wait and see how the early season unfolds.

 

The Cats are already making an incredible impression.

"He is over the moon. He has waited six years to get an opportunity," his manager says.

"The first thing he said after the (round one) game was, "I feel like I belong here".

"Gaz (Gary Ablett) had just given him a big hug on the siren. Gaz said, 'I have only just met you but I love playing with you and I hope we play a lot of footy together'.

"For him to hear that from Gary Ablett on the siren, he was pretty pumped."