‘I always thought I was good enough’
TIM Kelly would often unlock his smartphone and tap on YouTube.
The apprentice electrician was a star player in the WAFL, but sometimes would go looking for an extra a spark of inspiration.
He would search for Patrick Dangerfield, Joel Selwood or Gary Ablett highlights.
Fast-forward a few months and the 25-year-old is plying a very different trade alongside those very same stars. Incredibly, he is shining just as brightly.
The Cats draftee, taken with Geelong's second-round selection at pick 24 in last year's draft, had endured a long football apprenticeship - overlooked in five drafts.
"I was gearing up for another finals series at South Fremantle," Kelly said.
"I was halfway through my third year of my electrical apprenticeship, working long days.
"Those were the days where I'd be waking up at 5.30am or 6am and I'd be at it for eight or nine hours and then driving straight to training.
"I'd train for a couple of hours and then come back home at about 7.30pm or 8pm.
"That was me three or four days a week, so it was pretty draining."
Anyone in Kelly's situation could have been forgiven for giving up hope of an AFL career.
But the Western Australian refused to be deterred by the annual knock-backs.
"I always had a little person in the back of my head that always said that these things could happen if I just continued to work at things and with a bit of luck swinging my way," he said.
"I've always known that I've got the potential to play at this game, and that I'm good enough, as well. I'm very lucky to be in the position that I am."
As he worked to develop that potential, a handful of his new teammates are now the ones being inspired.
"Paddy Dangerfield, Joel Selwood, Gary Ablett … they're three guys who as a kid I've looked up their highlights on my phone and sat on my phone watching their highlights thinking, 'How good are these guys?'," Kelly explains.
"You look at them for inspiration. As a lot of young players do. The biggest one for me is Chris Judd - he's my favourite player."
It wasn't to copy their moves. Rather, for Kelly, it was about adding creativity, and flair.
"It's a bit of a luxury for me (to have them to draw on at Geelong) - I've got so many guys that I can pull things off and twist it and turn it and make it into something of my own," he said.
"No doubt the midfield is star-studded and there's a lot of guys there that I follow very closely, but it's a whole range of players.
"It's just about watching other players do certain things under certain situations. I just try to emulate it and make it my own."
Kelly has averaged more than 23 disposals a game this season. Last week he was named the AFL Players' Association's best first-year player with more than double the amount of votes of his nearest challenger.
His calm nature and ability to withstand pressure with seeming ease has impressed even the keenest of football eyes.
It's something Kelly admits is a strength, crediting his years playing senior football at South Fremantle for laying the foundations.
"I just try to keep a cool head in every situation," he explains.
"I've played a lot of footy and am very, very comfortable playing at this level.
"I feel like I've come in and I feel at home straight away.
"A lot of that has to do with the work I've put in, my pre-season and the support that I've had from my coaches and my teammates, as well."
He's always watching, this self-proclaimed "massive footy fan" who feels like he is yet to show all of his wares.
"Just like any player, there's always room to grow and I definitely don't think I've reached my full potential," Kelly said.
"For me, it's just about continuing to grow and continuing to seek advice from my peers, coaches, mentors and just see how we go. No doubt I'll definitely be pushing for bigger and better things."
He's never made a grand final at any level, but has played a "fair few" senior finals back in Perth, including two WAFL preliminaries.
Nothing will compare to Friday night at the MCG against Melbourne - he knows that, but he isn't daunted.
"It I was to be given an opportunity at, say, 18 or 19 years of age, I might not have been up to standard," Kelly said.
"I could have gotten chewed up and spat out in two years.
"So I definitely think having those few extra years at WAFL level - I've really got that hunger, that desire and that want to play at this level. I think that's why I've had quite a successful first year."
It hasn't all been smooth sailing.
Drafted in late November, Kelly moved more than 3000km from Perth to Geelong within days to begin training, with partner Caitlin - who had never been to Melbourne before, let along Geelong - heavily pregnant with twins back in WA.
Within weeks, twins Tariq and Trey - now eight months old, with Tykeem now three - were born with Kelly returning to Victoria when they were just eight days old.
A month later, the call was made that Caitlin and the trio of Kelly youngsters would make the "scary" shift across the country to Geelong.
It hasn't been easy, with Kelly admitting there have been "a lot of life lessons" learned in the whirlwind past 10 months.
"Probably more outside of footy than inside," he said.
"It's been a hell of a move and a hell of a journey and a hell of a last nine or 10 months for myself and my beautiful fiance Caitlin and our three boys.
"The birth of the twins happening a month-and-a-half after getting drafted, and just the initial process of how it all was … it was pretty daunting at first, the thought of being drafted interstate and the thought of Caitlin having to give birth at any given time was quite frustrating at times.
"But here we are, eight or nine months down the track. The challenges for us definitely aren't on the field. But I'm really enjoying it."
Caitlin admitted this week that "it still is" difficult being away from family and friends after enjoying a close-knit life in Perth, with Kelly also conceding that "it's definitely not easy".
"We have our good and our bad days," he said.
"But we're getting by. Obviously, I'm thriving at AFL footy as well, so there's the good and the bad."
The 25-year-old still has a year to run on his contract but adding to the load has been constant speculation about his future and whether he will eventually return to Perth.
He is adamant that he will not be rushed.
"I'm definitely loving it (at Geelong). There's no doubt about that. I love the club," he said.
"We've got great people down there. And I definitely see success - hopefully this year and in the near future.
"Like I said, the challenges for me and my family aren't on-field, they're off-field. Sometimes it's tough. We definitely do feel settled in Geelong, and it's just one of those things that will take time."