‘Record speaks for itself’: 200 of the best from captain Kennedy
When Andrew Ireland met with Josh Kennedy's manager at a Melbourne cafe in 2009, the then Hawthorn player had not been on the agenda.
The reason for the coffee with leading player agent Paul Connors was to discuss contract re-negotiations with Swans from his stable. Kennedy's name only came up at the end.
What happened next resulted in Kennedy coming to Sydney and, in the eyes of key figures past and present, becoming as important as box office hits Tony Lockett, Barry Hall or Lance Franklin to the club's core business of winning games of football.
The Kennedy name is royalty at Hawthorn but in 2009 he was a youngster at the back of a traffic jam. Ahead of him were Sam Mitchell, Luke Hodge, Brad Sewell and Jordan Lewis. He would not be getting the chance to prove himself in heavy traffic while wearing the brown and gold.
The Swans were looking to rejuvenate their midfield. Brett Kirk had one more year left, Jude Bolton was nearing 30. Connors had already floated the idea about a move to the SCG with Kennedy's uncle Ray Ball. He had also done business before with the Swans, helping them move backman Craig Bolton, who had been getting limited opportunities at Brisbane, to Sydney where he would win a flag and become a cornerstone of the club's defence.
"When we finished, you'd normally say 'who's on your list not getting a go?'" Ireland, the Swans' football manager at the time and now the club's chief executive, said of his talk with Connors.
"He knew we looked to get players in who hadn't been getting a go at strong clubs. He said 'The best player I've got who isn't getting a regular game is Josh. Being a Kennedy it might be whether he'd leave or not but if you're genuinely interested my view is he should'."
The Swans, through former assistant coach George Stone, did their homework and liked what they saw. But, said the Swans' then coach Paul Roos, he was a "speculative pick".
"We knew he was a midfielder and he wasn't getting the chances in that area. The fact he was doing OK as a forward meant we felt he had a skill set," Roos said.
"It was hard to scout him because he wasn't getting a regular game so you were a bit unsure of his absolute talent level."
The bar was not set too high for Kennedy, who had played only 13 games in three seasons with the Hawks.
"When you recruit you'd hope they might play 150 pretty good games, finish a few times in the top 10 best and fairest, that's a pretty good result," Ireland said.
Kennedy has well and truly exceeded those expectations. This week is his 200th game in the red and the white. He's been crowned club champion three times, finished in the placings every year apart from last year when he came fourth after missing three games.
He's also a three-time All Australian, premiership player and been captain of the club since last year.
"He'd be in the top five players in the competition in the last seven years," Roos said.
"In terms of wins and losses, he's got to be right up there in the conversation for the most important player at the footy club – he's been incredible."
The deal proved a win-win for both clubs. The Swans also landed Ben McGlynn, while the Hawks drafted future premiership heroes Ben Stratton and Matt Suckling.
Ireland rates Kennedy up there with some of the best signings the club has made in Sydney.
"His record speaks for itself. He's been as good a midfielder as we've had," he said.
"It's hard to compare the very best across the different eras but my view is he's in the elite bracket.
"Our core business has two prongs. If you ask our members, sure they want us to be profitable but they want to watch a team that represents them well and by extension wins games.
"You have an obligation to the players you recruit to give them the chance to be the best they can be individually and as a team, On that basis Josh has been vitally important for us."
Andrew Wu writes on cricket and AFL for The Sydney Morning Herald
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