Former rookie Jake Kelly has earned a promotion to Adelaide’s senior list for Season 2016, but knows there’s still plenty of work to do to reclaim his spot in the team.
Kelly, who turns 21 next week, made his AFL debut against Melbourne in Round Three last year after being upgraded to the primary squad in place of the injured Brent Reilly. The defender held his place for 10 matches and was rewarded with a new two-year deal.
He finished the season in the SANFL, and is determined to force his way back into the AFL side during the NAB Challenge next month. Kelly said the pre-season competition would be important for the team under a new coach in Don Pyke, as well as players trying to establish themselves.
“I’ve really got to make sure I’m up and going for the first NAB Challenge game if I get an opportunity,” Kelly said.
“I haven’t cemented my spot like a lot of other guys, so you’ve got to make sure you play well in those NAB Challenge games if you want to get a go in Round One.”
At 189cm and 87kg, Kelly can play on smaller and taller opponents, and shut them completely out of the game. His trademark competitiveness was highlighted against the Demons when he laid an incredible 10 tackles – an AFL/VFL record for a debutant – in the wet at Adelaide Oval.
The Crows defence has been bolstered by the inclusions of running half-backs/wingmen Paul Seedsman and Curtly Hampton from other clubs, and the addition of draftee Tom Doedee.
Sam Shaw is back in full training after an interrupted year recovering from hamstring surgery, while Andy Otten and Matthew Jaensch are on the comeback from knee injuries.
Rory Laird is coming off a career-best season; Jake Lever was a revelation in his first year and Kyle Cheney slotted straight in after switching from Hawthorn. Key defender Kyle Hartigan, who has only played 28 games, stood tall and Nathan van Berlo was trialled in a new role across half-back.
Kelly said there would be a squeeze on for spots in the back line, which also includes mainstays Daniel Talia, Luke Brown and Brodie Smith.
“It’s good and it’s healthy competition,” he said.
“Drafting Tom Doedee, in the half-back spots it’s really made us competitive at training. We’ve also got ‘Shawry’ and ‘Otto’ coming back from injury and Curtly Hampton coming in, who has been awesome at training.”
Despite the selection pressure, Kelly is feeling more at ease in his third AFL pre-season.
A hard worker and meticulous preparer, the former Oakleigh Charger has found a better balance between football and everyday life.
“I know now what I’ve got to do and what it’s like to play AFL footy,” he said.
“It’s really helpful having had that (AFL) experience. I’ve probably relaxed a bit more. This pre-season, I’ve focused on football when I’m at the Club and then when I’m away from the Club I’m really relaxing and it’s been enjoyable so far.”
Kelly kicked off the pre-season in the best way possible, taking out Adelaide’s two-kilometre time trial prior to Christmas. He backed up with a top-three finish in his group behind Nathan van Berlo and Riley Knight, who sat out the December trial, on the first day of training for 2016.
“I had a bit of surgery on my sinuses about three weeks before we came back (in December) so I wasn’t sure how I’d actually go (in the first time trial) but it was a good result,” Kelly said.
“(In the January time trial) I tried to keep up with them (van Berlo and Knight) for the last bend, but then ‘VB’ obviously is naturally gifted and just took it away!
“It’s good to measure yourself against VB and Riley because they’re very, very good runners.”
Knight also beat Kelly to a new playing number.
Rookies commonly ‘upgrade’ to a lower number after being promoted to the senior list, but Kelly will remain in the jumper which he wore in his debut AFL season.
“I was actually keen for No.3, but unfortunately Riley Knight got it before me,” he said.
“So, I thought I’d stick with No.47.”
In addition to posting a personal best result in the time trial, Kelly continues to improve his kicking.
Over the break, he enlisted the help of his famous footballing father, Craig.
Craig was a member of Collingwood’s 1990 premiership team and also played 121 SANFL games for Norwood, but Jake suggested his Dad’s best days were behind him!
“I did a fair bit of work over the break and tried to concentrate on my skills,” he said.
“I got fitness through the skill work I did down at the park with my Dad and brother back in Melbourne. Dad is shocking (to kick with now)! I got so angry at him because he was kicking one in five on the ground.
“He’s actually lost it, unfortunately. He’s good for ground balls!”
Kelly also had to find a new place to live in Adelaide over the break after former housemate and landlord Patrick Dangerfield decided to return to Victoria.
He’s moved in with a former Crows 'host' parent and staffer.
“Obviously, Pat decided to go home so I had to look for a new house!"
“I’ve moved in with the guy Pat stayed with when he first moved over to Adelaide, Sav McGill, which has been good. It’s just around the corner, so I’ve just swapped with Pat basically!”
Adelaide’s first NAB Challenge game is against West Coast at Unley Oval on Sunday, February 21.
See the full 2016 NAB Challenge fixture.