Geelong can reap the benefits of holding firm on Kelly

Following the 2008 season, former Sydney forward Ryan O’Keefe knocked back Sydney’s three-year contract offer and sought a trade back to his home state of Victoria.

Premiers Hawthorn quickly emerged as the front runners and O’Keefe looked destined to join the Hawks during trade week.

The issue was no deal could be brokered and with the prospect of being vulnerable to the order of the pre-season draft, O’Keefe eventually re-signed with Sydney, played out the rest of his career for the Swans, winning a Norm Smith medal and a premiership.

Prior to 2018, this stood as the last occasion where a high-profile player expressed a desire to leave his club yet was forced to remain with no trade ever eventuating.

With the advent of free agency allowing more fluid player movement once players came out of contract after extended periods at the one club, it also changed the way contracted players were treated with clubs seemingly always willing to accept trade requests from players and complete deals, sometimes at the last minute.

Tim Kelly seemed destined to force his way back to his home state of Western Australia after he finally publicly announced his desire to be traded to West Coast after a year of rumours that he and his family were unhappy living in Geelong.

Despite public pressure, the on-going perception that ‘deals just get done’ and the threat of losing Kelly for less or no compensation in a year, the Cats didn’t buckle and moved on after failing to receive what they viewed as adequate compensation.

It was a change of reputation from the team down the highway, but it’s reaping major benefits and will continue to do so through the season and into this year’s trade period.

Geelong had three key factors in their favour which made it beneficial to hold onto Kelly, all aside from the fact he immediately become one of the club’s and indeed the league’s best midfielders.

The first was having Kelly under contract. While that hasn’t really meant much of late, with the likes of Josh Schache and Gary Ablett forcing trades while under contract, Geelong still held leverage over Kelly and rightfully used it. He’s also on an extremely low contract. It’s worth mentioning the benefits of having a top five player on your list being paid a second-round draft pick salary.

Second was Kelly’s value was only going to go up. Barring a major injury, the on-baller was going to improve, he was entering the prime of his career, had no wear and tear on his body at the top level and had a year within the AFL system under his belt. The Cats were going to be able to come to trade table with a higher prized recruit than the previous year.

The third and potentially most intriguing factor which the Cats benefited from waiting on, was Fremantle entering the picture. Despite protestations from Kelly (and his West Coast-centric manager) against the idea of heading to the Dockers, there was a chance that if Geelong held firm, Kelly would have to relent and open a two-horse race between the WA clubs. Seemingly, that has happened and now Geelong can seek the best deal from two possible destinations.

With the power players currently have over trade negotiations is it hard for clubs to hold firm, they have no ability to seek maximum compensation as the player can veto any trade to a destination that doesn’t suit him.

Hence why players are dealt so easily, even while under contract. But Geelong were right then to hold firm and the decision looks even better now. Kelly is a genuine Brownlow contender whose value has shot past any players dealt in recent trade periods. He’s probably the best player to request a trade since Chris Judd.

Now West Coast maximised Judd’s value through the ability to sort through a bevy of offers from Victorian clubs. As Geelong only has one, maybe two teams in play, they don’t quite have that option, but they are in a stronger position to deal this off-season than last.

West Coast’s reported final offer was their two second-round picks in 2018 (20, 22) and a future second-round selection in this year’s draft (that will presumably fall somewhere in the mid-20’s). Against Steven Wells’ M.O. and the reputation of the Cats as the ‘good guys of trade week’, the Cats held out for a future first-round pick in this year’s draft and never baulked from their demand.

Now Kelly is undoubtedly worth at least two-first round picks and then some, considering he looks more complete than past players who were dealt for that price including Adam Treloar and Dylan Shiel.

Of course, the entirely alternate scenario which could become a reality and was strengthened by Geelong buying time accredited to them through Kelly’s contract, is they convince him to stay.

While it’s highly likely he seeks a trade as soon as Geelong play their final game later this season, the Cats have had another year to work on making Kelly and his family happy in Geelong. They have taken notable steps off field and their 7-1 start and premiership favouritism surely couldn’t hurt their chances either.

It may not exactly set a precedent in future years, but the Cats have shown the benefits of holding players to their contracts and not faulting the second a contracted player wants out. Clubs still have some leverage and Geelong has used that to their effect and will more-than-likely benefit from it, either through a sweeter deal come October, or Kelly signing an extension with the team.

The only thing that hasn’t changed for the Cats appears to be still losing a great player, which Tim Kelly has already become.

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