Star Geelong midfielder Tim Kelly says the experience of having two of his three sons diagnosed with autism while living on the other side of the country from his family was a major factor pushing his blockbuster trade to the West Coast Eagles.
- Tim Kelly starred for WAFL club South Fremantle before heading to Geelong
- He was a key player for the Cats, coming fifth in this year’s Brownlow Medal count
- Geelong got four draft picks over two years in return for Kelly and two lower picks
Under a deal the Eagles said was 12 months in the making, the Cats have received selections 14, 24 and 37 in this year’s national draft from West Coast, along with the club’s first selection in the 2020 draft.
The 25-year-old Kelly, who has toddler twins and a four-year-old son, said he was excited to be back in his home state and his family was “over the moon” about the move.
“They’re bouncing off the walls,” he said.
“The kids don’t exactly know what’s going on, but for [Kelly’s partner] Caitlin, for my parents, … our extended family, it means a lot.”
Kelly played two outstanding seasons with the Cats and was out of contract, clearing a major trade hurdle.
He had earlier made it clear he had requested a move to West Coast for family reasons.
Today, he said he and his partner Caitlin had been under pressure following their children’s diagnoses in a city far from home.
“My oldest boy, as soon as we got to Geelong he was basically diagnosed,” Kelly said.
“He’s non-verbal so … there’s weekly speech therapy sessions, there’s weekly occupational therapy session with him.
“Earlier this year we discovered that one of my twin boys is also going to be going down the same path where he’s going to need the exact same treatment.”
Kelly said while it was good the boys were diagnosed early, it meant there was a lot of pressure on both himself and his partner.
“You can imagine having to manage all that on the other side of the country where you don’t have any family support,” he said.
“I’m being a fulltime athlete and giving Geelong footy club my all, and all my time, Caitlin doesn’t have anyone around to really assist with that and it’s pretty tough.”
‘Tough talks’ preceded move home
He said throughout the year he and his partner had “some really, really tough talks” before the trade.
“We were looking at ways to stay, how can we stay, but when you put things in perspective it was always, you know, we had to come home,” he said.
“You can imagine how different it would be being home and having family and that around. So … it’s less pressure on me … I can go to work day-in, day-out knowing that Caitlin’s got the support around her and I can just focus on doing what I do best.
“So that’s why I’m here, that’s why I’m wearing these colours.”
In addition to Kelly, the Eagles have been sent pick 57 in this year’s draft and a third-round selection in 2020.
The Cats said it was a “huge return” for the midfielder.
‘Delighted’ Eagles say Kelly’s best yet to come
West Coast coach Adam Simpson said the club would offer Kelly the support he needed on and off the field.
“We understand the situation and we respect it, we’ve got 11 or 12 players with children, and we understand that’s a difficult task being a dad, full stop.
“So any support we can give, we will.”
Eagles general manager of football Craig Vozzo described Kelly as one of the best players around.
“We are delighted that we have been able to secure Tim because we believe he is a unique talent and a high quality person,” he said.
“His first two seasons in the AFL have been quite extraordinary and probably as good as any player in recent history.”
Vozzo conceded the club had paid a high price for Kelly, but said his best was still to come.
“We have paid a premium for his services, but he is an elite player who is about to enter his prime years,” he said.
Cats look to the future with draft picks
Geelong recruiting and list manager Stephen Wells said the deal set up the club to add some strong new talent to its ranks.
“Once we determined that Tim would not recommit to our club and was set on returning to Western Australia, we set about securing the best deal for the club,” he said.
“The selections we have secured will give us the best opportunity to add high-end talent to our list in the upcoming national draft.
“We thank Tim for his two years with us and wish him well in the future, both in his football career and his family.
“Tim was obviously an exceptional player for us, but we are excited by the possibilities the draft picks we have secured offer us.”
Kelly played 48 games in two seasons for the Cats after being drafted from WAFL club South Fremantle, where he was runner-up in the 2017 Sandover Medal.
He finished fifth in this year’s Brownlow Medal count, ran second in Geelong’s best and fairest award in both years and was selected in this year’s All Australian team.
Kelly has averaged more than 24 disposals a game since his AFL debut, laid 106 tackles this season and kicked 24 goals in each year at Geelong.