It might have been Tim Kelly’s first game for the year but the classy Eagle clicked smoothly into gear as West Coast’s engine room covered for some big-name absences in the club’s round one win over Gold Coast.
Sidelined from both practice matches against Fremantle due to a thumb issue, Kelly made his presence felt during Sunday’s 25-point win, especially in a hot start at Optus Stadium.
The gun 26-year-old had a hand in both goals inside two minutes as the Eagles burst out of the blocks, delivering to Oscar Allen on the lead and then for Jack Darling to run into an open goal.
They were two of Kelly’s game-high 13 score involvements and nine inside 50s in a welcome return to the side, with his foot skills forward of centre a highlight for a boisterous home crowd.
“I love delivering the ball inside 50. It’s something I pride myself on,” Kelly said.
“It was nice to be able to connect with the boys. I just give them the ball and they do the rest. It was nice to be able to do that yesterday.”
Without skipper Luke Shuey and fellow two-time club champion Elliot Yeo, the Eagles’ onball brigade needed to lift against the rising Suns and Dom Sheed (34 disposals, nine clearances), Kelly (28 disposals), Liam Duggan and Jack Redden (22 each) shouldered the load.
Even with prolific wingman Andrew Gaff (16) subdued early, before his hard-running came to the fore in the second half, the Eagles were able to get the job done, with youngster Xavier O’Neill (18) also chipping in.
“I think we definitely have a lot of depth in our midfield. We’ve got a lot of good players who can stand up and perform,” Kelly said.
“Obviously missing your skipper, important players such as Shuey and Yeo, you definitely want to play well. I felt we did that.
“It wasn’t only myself it was Sheed, Redden, Gaffy, everyone stood up. I’d love to have those players back but we’ve got the depth to fill those roles.”
Kelly also praised young gun Allen, whose career-best four goals was decisive, in concert with star duo Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling (two each).
“He’s a pretty rare talent. Clunking marks in the forward line, going back slotting goals, and then playing on some key forwards on the other end,” Kelly said.
“He was awesome for us yesterday.”
Kelly wore a thumb guard in his return match, and due to medical advice will likely keep it for one more week - Sunday’s tough trip to face the Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium.
It will be West Coast’s first away trip to Melbourne since the 2019 semi-final, when Kelly was playing for Geelong.
“I’m looking forward to it so much. Personally, I feel like I’m someone who thrives on routine and having structure,” Kelly said.
“I’m really looking forward to getting into that routine where we play away one week, home the next, away (the next).”