The star-studded Geelong side of the late naughties featured some unbelievable performers.
Think Gary Ablett, Joel Selwood, Jimmy Bartel, Matthew Scarlett, Steve Johnson, Corey Enright, Paul Chapman — the list goes on.
But there’s a player who is celebrating an impending milestone in Round 8 that was important to the Cats’ most dominant period, but perhaps not in the same exciting way as his other talented teammates.
Former Cat and now Bomber James Kelly will play his 300th game against his former club, a remarkable feat given he effectively retired at the end of the 2015 season.
Ex-teammate Andrew Mackie, who played alongside Kelly in three premierships, was unusually tight-lipped about pumping up this weekend’s rival.
“Now let’s not get too lovey-dovey with this,” Mackie told Aflplayers.com.au.
“But as a teammate, you always knew what you were going to get from him. He was as good as anyone at that.
“When things seemed to be getting tougher on the field, he always stepped up. We were lucky enough to play in some pretty big games and to have a player as reliable as him was almost a luxury.”
There’s two sides of Kelly, who’s now 33 years old and playing his 16th season at the top level.
There’s the hard-at-it, competitive soon-to-be 300-gamer whose accolades include an All-Australian selection in 2011, and the guy who fancies himself as a bit of joker.
On the serious side, Mackie said Kelly was as head strong as they come.
“He was never shy to have his say, whether it was in a serious moment or when having a joke around. He never backed out of having something to say.
“He’s super competitive. You don’t get to 300 games without being competitive. He always wanted to get the best out of himself and he judged himself pretty harshly on that, too.”
Then there’s the Kelly character away from the field, which is one Mackie strongly relates to.
“It’s much talked about that he’s always enjoyed the light-hearted side of footy when he gets the chance,” Mackie added.
“But he’d always get serious when it came time to get down to work and he’d be the first to flick that switch. Catch him after a few beers, though, and a different character altogether comes out.”
Kelly was recruited by the Cats with pick 17 in a draft that is often rated as the best the AFL has seen.
The 2001 draft was a decent one for Geelong, with Kelly making his way to Kardinia Park alongside Jimmy Bartel, Steve Johnson and Gary Ablett.
He had a solid mop of curly hair then, and Mackie believes that’s probably the biggest physiological change to take place over the course of Kelly’s storied career.
“There was obviously a lot of physical change, he was fighting the hair scenario for a while along with a few of our teammates and Gazza was the same.
“They tried to go with the long hair to cover up the bald bits but time eventually caught up with them. Now he’s not doing too much on top.”
In recent times, Kelly has become an important part of the Bombers’ defensive unit and also made a name for himself as one of the more entertaining players on social media.
Always one to express poignant opinions online, Kelly may not be as funny as he likes to think.
“He actually rates himself as a pretty funny man and the jury is out on that,” Mackie joked.
“He has a certain clientele that he can play up to and he knows when he can get a cheap laugh.”