by Richard Jones
TO SAY that Tony Kelly is one of the enduring characters of the Kyneton and Bendigo football communities is to state the obvious.
He is one of the BFNL’s genuine larger-than-life personalities and richly deserved his elevation to BFNL Hall of Fame status last October.
Kelly was a fearless ball-getter on the field, a consummate party man off it and during the tail-end of his career a popular host at his Piper Street pub.
Kelly’s love of the after-match festivities should not be allowed to cloud his fearless attack on the football on-field.
As a midfielder, half-forward or a player close to the goal square Kelly just loved getting his hands on the pill.
He was passionate about Kyneton, his beloved Tigers. Anything Kel could do to drive the ball to the Tigers’ advantage he’d do.
And not just for Kyneton’s sake. I vividly remember Kel almost single handedly dragging the Blue and Golds back into a Division 1 semi-final against Geelong in 1988.
Bendigo were down by a fair bit at half-time in that important match before Kelly, from his half-forward flank, revived Bendigo’s hopes in the third quarter.
KELLY’S illustrious career started out in the Kyneton District Junior Football League with Trentham.
His promise as a footballer was shown early on with wins in a number of KDJFL awards. This early promise was not lost on Kyneton’s long-serving under-18 coach and Tiger legend, Joe Derricott.
Kel joined the Tiger under-18s in 1978, showing a heap of promise. It was no surprise that he was on the seniors list in 1979, finishing second in the club best and fairest award to Paul ‘Monky’ Plowman.
Melbourne Football Club also saw something in the young Kelly, He spent 1980 playing under-19 and reserves footy with the Dees before returning to Kyneton.
After having a kick with Kyneton in 1981, Kel decided it was time for another crack at metropolitan footy. So he tried his luck with VFA club Preston in 1982.
The Bullants made it to the grand final against arch-rival Port Melbourne but Port, led by ace full-forward Fred Cook, was too strong and Kel had to settle for runners-up.
Collingwood scouts were on hand as they had regularly talked to Tony while he was still at Preston. Kel signed with the Magpies and spent three seasons at Collingwood’s famous Victoria Park.
His first game was at Waverley against his old club Melbourne. The crowd was 55,380 for that 1983 clash.
Tony ended up playing 10 senior games during his three-year stint with the Magpies before returning to Kyneton in 1986.
His uncanny ability to gather large numbers of possessions helped the Tigers make it to the 1987 BFL preliminary final against Castlemaine.
Kelly’s first Kyneton club best and fairest award followed in 1988 before he headed off to the Hepburn club as coach for the 1989-1990 seasons. Hepburn won the flag under Kel’s leadership in ’89.
He returned to coach the Tigers in 1991 and 1992 and was at Tigerland for the rest of his footy career.
KELLY kick-started the process which would see the Tigers play in three consecutive mid-90s grand finals, collecting two Bendigo Advertiser premiership cups, as Kyneton dominated the BFL.
Proving that the extra pressure brought on by serving the Tigers as playing coach had no impact on his own form, Kel won the club best and fairest in 1992.
He said at the time the Tigers had an up and coming team with their best years just around the corner. He was to be proved correct.
But the pressure of running his busy hotel meant that Kel had to stand down as coach.
Nevertheless, he remained as an important Tiger team member. He was in the Kyneton side which won the 1995 and 1997 grand finals before retiring at the end of the 2000 season.
Just to prove he still had what it took Tony Kelly won his third club best and fairest award in his final season: 2000. He was 38.
He was always supremely fit and his ability to collect the footy never left him.
In 1998 along with great mates Shane Muir and Terry Mangan, Kelly had been inducted as a Kyneton life member. More than 300 former players, club supporters and friends were at the function.
And Kelly was unstintingly a great advocate for inter-league footy. He played 13 games for the Blue and Golds between 1986 and 1997, served as a selector and coached one early round inter-league clash in 1997.
Kel continually encouraged Bendigo footballers to play at the highest level possible. In his era, that was inter-league footy.
He played his 200th game against Maryborough at Princes Park and his 250th against South Bendigo at the QEO. So adoring Tiger fans missed both milestones being played on home turf at the Showgrounds.
THE two premierships he won under Kyneton coach Derrick Filo remain among Kel’s greatest footy memories.
But there was one other game he’ll never forget.
Under coach Peter McRae (later to serve the Two Blues) Kyneton travelled to Canterbury Park to take on the very powerful Eaglehawk team.
The Tigers weren’t expected to trouble the Two Blues. But the ground was a mud-heap, not dissimilar to the Kyneton Showgrounds of the period.
Out came the pumped-up Tigers and booted five sausage rolls in the opening term. Even though they barely scored for the remainder of the match, the Kyneton Tigers held on to record a famous victory.
Kel was always the joker. In 1987 newspaper pundits, including your columnist, had installed Tony Kelly as one of the favourites for that season’s Michelsen Medal.
He went out and bought a new suit, but failed to poll as many votes as expected. Sandhurst’s Brendan Hartney won the ’87 medal.
It was always a struggle to make the return trip to Bendigo if you called into Kelly’s Pub to have a chat after covering a Kyneton game.
One year in the mid-2000s the broadcast crew bobbed in and downed a convivial ale or two. Kel was in great form and despite our protests continued to fill the glasses — some barely half-empty.
“Come on, Jonesy,” he’d say. “Darts (Bourke) can drive you home.”
Only problem was boundary rider ‘Darts’ didn’t drive. I forget which crew member did steer us home, but we managed to get there. I have a feeling it was co-caller and non-drinker (now ABC-TV journo) Peter Lenaghan who slid behind the wheel.
TONY Kelly was inducted into the Bendigo Football and Netball League’s Hall of Fame on Friday, October 29th, last year.
[With thanks to executive officer Darren Lewis, the Hall of Fame selection panel and the Kyneton Football Netball Club.]