Tim Kelly has a more pressing issue to address than the pending tug-of-war between Geelong and West Coast — and possibly Fremantle — at the trade table.
The explosive midfielder, who dismissed close-checking opponents most weeks during his final WAFL season, has been exposed as susceptible to a tag at AFL level.
And whether Kelly can overcome extra attention in the coming rounds could have far-reaching consequences in his trade and contract negotiations at the end of the year.
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Kelly was a revelation in his AFL debut season as a mature-age draftee and enjoyed a relatively smooth ride playing third or fourth fiddle in Geelong’s star-studded engine room behind the likes of Patrick Dangerfield, Joel Selwood, Gary Ablett, Mitch Duncan and Sam Menegola.
But the Cats’ on-ball evolution — increased midfield time for Brandan Parfitt and Charlie Constable combined with Kelly’s development and new roles for Ablett (small forward) and Selwood (wing) — forced the South Fremantle product to take on greater responsibility in 2019.
After three rounds, Kelly averaged 28 disposals and nine clearances and sat atop the AFL Coaches’ Association champion player of the year leaderboard.
He might well prove to have racked up eight or nine Brownlow Medal votes to that point, and his value was skyrocketing until he hit a Matt de Boer-shaped speed bump at GMHBA Stadium on Saturday.
The wily former Docker picked his target and registered a resounding victory in their personal battle, making a beeline for Kelly at the opening bounce and playing a key role in one of the greatest wins in the Giants’ short history.
Kelly, it must be noted, went into the match under an injury cloud after hurting an ankle the previous week.
But he was passed fit to play, appeared to move freely and was limited to a career-low nine disposals.
He had next to no impact on the game after kicking an early goal. Champion Data recorded that de Boer spent 47 minutes running with Kelly and 31 minutes on Dangerfield, who had only 17 disposals in his lowest tally in four seasons at Geelong.
A successful blueprint has been laid by GWS and taggers will no doubt be gunning for Kelly from now on.
Hawthorn’s Alastair Clarkson will consider sending a stopper to Kelly in the traditional Easter Monday blockbuster, possibly Daniel Howe, and you can bet West Coast’s Adam Simpson will weigh up using Mark Hutchings to blunt Kelly in round six.
Geelong are still desperate to retain the out-of-contract 24-year-old, who failed in his bid to secure a trade to West Coast last year.
The Cats knocked back the Eagles’ offer of draft picks 20 and 22 — and the WA club’s five-year, $3 million offer to Kelly went un-signed.
But there’s plenty more to play out on the field before the interested parties settle on asking and buying prices when both West Coast and Fremantle launch fresh bids for Kelly in October.
As a side note, de Boer’s hot streak in blunting Kelly, frustrating Dangerfield and annoying the heck out of Richmond superstar Dustin Martin has brought about a mini-revival of one of football’s dark arts.
The versatile 29-year-old hasn’t just shut down his opponents since being redeployed as a tagger over the past fortnight, he’s got inside their heads.
Former Dockers teammate Ryan Crowley would be proud.