Kelly's breakout season in star-studded Merrivale forward line

BRAD Kelly would have attracted long odds with bookmakers to win the 2014 Warrnambool and District league goalkicking trophy.

Merrivale forward Brad Kelly kicks into attack before Dennington pursuer Chris Vickery can pressure the play. Merrivale forward Brad Kelly kicks into attack before Dennington pursuer Chris Vickery can pressure the play. Merrivale forward Brad Kelly kicks into attack before Dennington pursuer Chris Vickery can pressure the play. 140426LP63 Picture: LEANNE PICKETT

Merrivale forward Brad Kelly kicks into attack before Dennington pursuer Chris Vickery can pressure the play. Merrivale forward Brad Kelly kicks into attack before Dennington pursuer Chris Vickery can pressure the play. Merrivale forward Brad Kelly kicks into attack before Dennington pursuer Chris Vickery can pressure the play. 140426LP63 Picture: LEANNE PICKETT

The 27-year-old Merrivale footballer had come off a 2013 campaign playing off half-back, sneaking forward enough to kick 14 goals as the Tigers reached a semi-final.

His returns the previous two seasons — 36 goals in 2012 and 26 goals in 2011 — were solid, although hardly headline-grabbing.

VIDEO: A look at the key forwards

But Kelly has managed 60 goals this season, at an average of 4.6 a match. He’s kicked at least three goals in 11 of the Tigers’ 13 matches.

The rest of the players in the top 10 read like a who’s who of WDFNL forwards. Yet none have cracked the half-century so far.

Merrivale full-forward Jet Dowie is second with 47 from 11 matches and has a similar goals-per-game rate as Kelly.

Old Collegians’ Chris Chambers (46), Panmure’s Tom White (43), Dennington’s Chris Keilar (41) and Nirranda’s Rick Spokes (41) fill the top five. Allansford’s Justin Nowell (38) and Panmure’s Daniel Roache (35) are the next best. Three others have managed 30 for the season.

So how does a 178cm, 85kg forward pocket rocket to the top of the standings?

First-year Merrivale coach Karl Dwyer came to Kelly in the pre-season and said he wanted a third permanent forward beside Dowie and Joe Woonton.

The thought was Kelly could crumb off the taller pair, potentially chipping in with one or two goals a game. A 40-goal season would have been a good return.

But Kelly has been far from the support act. His season includes an eight-goal haul against Timboon Demons and three bags of seven.

“A couple of times I’ve played that (full-forward) role,” he said yesterday.

“But we’ve got a few that can do that, James Fary and Jet Dowie and even Rhys Raymond has had spells down there. I really haven’t been the focal target.

“That’s the blessing for us, down forward we stretch a few teams for height. Someone is going to get off the leash.” 

Kelly admitted he preferred playing in attack rather than defence: “it’s no secret at the club I like playing forward”.

But he said he would be just as happy if his goals tally was half of what it is, so long as one of his teammates was hitting the scoreboard.

“I just try and play my role, I suppose. It’s not a matter of who’s kicking them, as long as we’re kicking a winning score,” he said.

That role, Kelly said, was just as much about applying pressure to the opposition backmen, as much as it was about kicking goals.

“More this year Karl has been focused on me being more defensive. Having three key targets we needed some people on the ground to pressure a bit,” he said.

“He’s been focusing a fair bit on tackling from me and Josh Guiney and Seamus Blake and the likes who play down there as smalls.”

Merrivale takes on Allansford in the WDFNL match of the day tomorrow as part of a split round 14.

The Cats took the honours by nine points in round one.

Both sit clear in the top three. But the Tigers’ run home, which includes Panmure, Dennington and Old Collegians, makes victory imperative.

“This week will show whether we’ve improved or not,” Kelly said.

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