What the Tim Kelly Trade Means For West Coast (and Geelong)

Not since 2007's show-stopping Chris Judd-to-Carlton trade has the AFL witnessed such a seismic player swap as last October’s Tim Kelly-to-West Coast extravaganza.

While the AFL has witnessed superstar player movement over the last decade with the likes of Lance Franklin, Patrick Dangerfield and Tom Lynch all changing clubs, the introduction of free agency made those transactions relatively straightforward.

The Tim Kelly sweepstakes were, however, a different animal altogether.

Not only did the West Coast Eagles have to part with two 2019 top-30 selections (#14 & #24 plus pick #37) along with a 2020 first-round draft pick, but the Eagles also inked the brilliant midfielder to an immediate six-year, $5 million deal.

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What sparked the Kelly trade from Geelong was the young West Australian’s fierce desire to return to his home state.

What turned that spark into a fully-fledged fire was that in just two AFL seasons, Kelly’s game had clearly demonstrated itself as being simply elite.

Few players - if any - in VFL/AFL history have had such an immediately profound impact through their first 48 games than Tim Kelly, speaking to why Geelong were so reluctant to lose him, and why the Eagles were willing to part with so much draft capital, virtually presenting an open chequebook to make it happen.

And it’s in landing with the Eagles which makes this such a monumental transaction, with wide-ranging implications for the rest of the league.

Simply put, the West Coast Eagles were already an excellent team before trading for Kelly, and are set to become a seriously scary proposition upon injecting the star midfielder into their lineup, with the Eagles top-four projections boosted by a whopping 12.2% once Kelly was added into the squad, while also increasing their premiership prospects by 3.2% as well.

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Over the last three seasons, only Richmond have won more games than West Coast, while the Eagles have had no less than six individual All-Australians in that time-span. Most importantly, Kelly presents eerily as a perfect match for the way the Eagles have played over the last few seasons.

Under coach, Adam Simpson, the Eagles have employed something of a nineties throwback, opting for a more streamlined approach to their game, boasting the league's highest kick-to-handball ratio at 1.81, with the intention to get the ball down to their twin-tower forwards - Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling - directly and as quickly as possible.

According to the Stats Insider AFL Shot Charting Explorer, this is a prime reason they were able to generate 62% of their shots directly in front of goal in 2019, which was a number bettered only by the all-conquering Tigers (66%), while their overall 51% shot accuracy was the highest in the league last season.

Bringing Kelly into a midfield our own in-house ranking assesses (more on this to come shortly) as the game’s best, makes for a potent recipe.

Not only is Kelly a prolific finder of the ball and line-breaker, but he’s a rare type of player who’s able to win his own ball and generate clearances on the inside while being thoroughly destructive on the outside. Kelly's speed and penetration make him capable of completely overwhelming opposition midfielders while stretching defences in the blink of an eye.

For the Cats, losing Kelly is an unquestionably massive blow.

It’s one being felt across fan forums and betting markets, and one which has also rumbled our 2020 AFL Premiership projections, too, with the Cats winning the premiership in just 10% of our simulations which is a significant drop only months removed from claiming last season’s Minor Premiership.

Not only was Kelly instrumental in Geelong enjoying premiership favouritism for most of 2019, but he allowed the Cats to be much more flexible through the front half of the ground, lessening the burden on Patrick Dangerfield and allowing him to spend more time up forward. This luxury provided the likes of Brandon Parfitt, Gryan Miers and Tom Atkins with invaluable midfield minutes and extra responsibilities. 

More crucially for the Cats, the Kelly departure greatly alters the profile of their playing list with club stars such as Dangerfield, Tom Hawkins and Joel Selwood now all over 30, and, while still productive, offering smaller windows of elite production than that of someone of Kelly's demographic.

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While the Cats have bought in decorated, though deteriorating, veterans such as Jack Steven (from St Kilda) and Josh Jenkins (Adelaide) this offseason to help soften the immediate blow, it's in future drafts where Geelong will be hoping to create its next serious premiership tilt.

Between 2011 and 2017 the Cats had just three first-round selections, opting to trade away premium draft assets in order to bring in the likes of Dangerfield and Gary Ablett Jnr to keep them in premiership contention. They’ve brought in just as many over the last two drafts alone, while this coming November they will introduce at least two more in a concentrated effort to re-stock a relatively barren cupboard of under-23 talent at Kardinia Park.

Whether Geelong's recruiting manager, Stephen Wells, still has the Midas touch at the draft table remains to be seen, however, if he's capable of rekindling another Geelong 'super-team' through the draft, he'll achieve legendary status throughout the Surf Coast - if he hasn't already.

For now, though, the Cats will have to watch on as Tim Kelly helps West Coast land what would be a fifth club premiership in just 29 seasons. While that's a gut-wrenching proposition for Cats' fans, they can rest assured they've given themselves the best shot at building their next great side, while still enjoying the prime of Dangerfield's career.

READ: Predicting the AFL Clubs Most Likely to Fall Out of the Eight in 2020

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James Rosewarne

James is a writer and Managing Editor at Stats Insider. He likes fiction and music. He is a stingray attack survivor. He lives in Wollongong.

Email- james@thehypometer.com for story ideas or opportunities.

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