Slow start, fast finish for humble and resilient Kennedy
Sydney Swans co-captain Josh Kennedy will play his 250th career game on Thursday night against the Western Bulldogs. His cousin, Luke Ball and former teammate Ben McGlynn spoke to aflplayers.com.auabout Kennedy’s determination and resilience to become one of the modern era’s best midfielders.
For Sydney Swans co-captain Josh Kennedy, amassing 250 career games has not come as easily as you might have thought.
Drafted to Hawthorn as a father-son selection with pick No. 40 in the 2006 draft, Kennedy struggled to break into a midfield on the verge of a dynasty featuring the likes of Sam Mitchell, Luke Hodge and Jordan Lewis.
The son and grandson of Hawthorn legends, John Kennedy Jnr. and John Kennedy Snr., the younger Kennedy had brown and gold running through his veins.
From the moment he arrived at the Hawks following the 2006 draft, Kennedy’s work ethic and determination was immediately on-show according to former teammate Ben McGlynn.
“You knew that he wanted to make his own name and not just be in the shadows of his father and grandfather… from the early days you could see that he had the right make up in terms of his application,” McGlynn told aflplayers.com.au ahead of Kennedy’s 250th game tomorrow night.
In two seasons at the Hawks, Kennedy played 13 games before the Swans came calling with the promise of greater opportunity.
Growing up in a tight-knit family in Melbourne a move north to the Harbour City was not a decision Kennedy made lightly but it was one his cousin and former Collingwood and St Kilda player, Luke Ball, said changed the course of his career.
“From pretty early on at his new club he seemed to fit in with the Swans hand in glove and never really looked back,” Ball told aflplayers.com.au.
McGlynn joined Kennedy at the Swans after the 2009 season for the return of picks 39, 46 and 70.
He saw firsthand how hard Kennedy worked to become the footballer that he is today.
“He still had to work his way through a pretty strong midfield group at the Swans at the time but given that opportunity to play regular senior footy his confidence grew enormously in the first few years,” he said.
In his debut season at the Swans, Kennedy finished third in the club best and fairest and was also awarded the Paul Roos Award for the best player in the final series.
It would be the beginning of a consistent and successful career in the red and white.
Kennedy has played in 236 games for Sydney and is second to only Gary Ablett Jnr. for career contested possessions – a remarkable feat considering Ablett Jnr has played 99 more games than Kennedy.
He also played more games in the last decade than any other player in the competition, which Ball says is a nod to his durability and consistency.
“For him to be able to do that with the way he plays and what he subjects his body to – he’s always had a nice, big frame that probably allowed that – but it talks to his resilience and his ability to play through a bit of pain and discomfort and be professional and to work on his body and recovery,” he said.
“I think that stat alone speaks volumes to the player he’s become.”
As children and into their teenager years, the Kennedy and Ball families were incredibly close – Ball’s mum Jennie and Kennedy’s mum Bernadette are sisters – so much so that the two families ended up living on the same street.
Ball, with his older brother Matt, and Kennedy would spend hours at the park, in the backyard or on the street honing their football craft and enjoying challenging each other in various sports.
Four years his senior, Ball had the edge over Kennedy, until he shot up in height and size.
“I’m not sure at what stage he grew up and went past us from a size point of view but for most of those early years we were like brothers to him,” Ball said.
“It was great to have a Kennedy kid not too far away to kick the footy with.”
These battles extended to the AFL when Collingwood and Sydney took to the field from 2010 until Ball’s retirement at the end of the 2014 season.
“We played against each other a few times and from my point of view it was never a good idea to get caught in a wrestle with him,” he said.
“It was about trying to use a few other techniques to be able to beat him at a stoppage or around the contest because that’s been such a strength of his in the last 12 years.
“I loved playing against him and then watching him do well… We did have some good battles, especially towards 2010 onwards when I was at Collingwood (and the Swans were beginning to hit their straps).”
As Kennedy has developed on-field over the past 12 seasons to become one of the competition’s elite midfielders, he has developed equally off of it to become a leader and co-captain at the Swans.
Kennedy is also a highly-regarded family man and has two children, Emilio and Isabella, with wife Ana.
According to those that know him, Kennedy has often been softly spoken compared to some of his footballing counterparts but has always had a well-respected voice.
Looking on as a teammate at the Hawks and Swans, McGlynn said Kennedy was shy at the beginning, but once the club’s leaders looked to him for input he found a renewed sense of confidence.
“Once he knew that he was valued among the group and his voice was going to influence others you saw his game go to another level,” he said.
“He took that responsibility not just on game day but during the week to really drive the culture that is very strong up in Sydney… I think that was a turning point for him.
“The early days (in Sydney) he got a few best and fairest awards and podium finishes but I think his game went to another level (holistically) once he took that leadership role.”
Watching on from the outside, Ball is incredibly proud of how far his cousin has come as a player, but moreso as a leader and ultimate team player.
“(His leadership style) is one of the things I really admire about him – he lets his actions do the talking,” Ball said.
“He’s very humble, which he gets from his family – they’re the kind of leaders that I really warm to and admire – the ones that don’t need to really say a hell of a lot but they display great humility but then when the ball is bounced they’re as ferocious and ruthless and determined as anyone else.
“That’s the way Josh has gone about it.”
Although McGlynn wasn’t led by Kennedy, who was appointed co-captain ahead of the 2017 season – the same year McGlynn retired – he’s incredibly proud of how far his close friend and former teammate has come.
“The first game he captained was something I remember watching and very proud to see him achieve,” he said.
“To be close friends with him and see what he’s been able to achieve and work towards in the previous 12 seasons is a proud moment.”
Ball has watched on and seen Kennedy reach his 250 games hard way – from breaking into the Hawks side to debut, making the courageous move up north for greater opportunity but no guarantees and cementing himself as one of the greatest midfielders in modern football.
“I’m really proud of his longevity and resilience to be able to notch up this milestone, having a slightly slower start than others – it’s a sensational effort and a sensational tribute to the leader and the player he has become.”