DEAN Kelly has done plenty in his football career, but it’s been his foray into the country that has been arguably his most enjoyable experience.
The boom Waubra recruit has thrived in his first season in the Central Highlands Football League – his first based outside of native Melbourne.
Kelly’s promising career blossomed in the 2006 TAC Cup season when he captained the Oakleigh Chargers to the premiership with a best-on-ground performance in the grand final, before flying out to do a pre-season with AFL side Fremantle.
But after missing a rookie position with the Dockers – where his half-brother Heath Black played – Kelly returned to Victoria for a season with Port Melbourne in the VFL.
After a handful of senior games and a best first-year player award, he left the club and spent time with Eastern league sides Noble Park and Vermont.
This year, Kelly has “wound up at Waubra” along with good friend David Edgcumbe, who is married to the sister of Roos players Tim and Shaun Mullane and former president Justin.
“I’ve loved it. It has really freshened up my footy. I’ve really got the passion back,” Kelly, a former Oakleigh best and fairest, said.
“I think I was getting a little bit stale when I was playing at Vermont. I was just rocking up, knowing the teams and players inside out. This year I have hardly known anyone. “You hear a lot about different players and teams, but it’s very new. It’s exciting and I’m nervous when I rock up to the games because you don’t know what to expect.”
The attacking onballer has barely missed a beat at his new home, proving a vital part in the Roos’ campaign, which has registered just one defeat.
The 25-year-old police officer was a joint runner-up in the league best and fairest behind teammate Nick Sullivan this year, starred in the Highlanders’ interleague triumph over Ovens and King and also shone in his appearance for Victoria Country 2 in a win over the VAFA’s Section B-Division 4 squad.
“I’ve really been proud of what I’ve done and have enjoyed getting the opportunity to play for the league and country Victoria,” Kelly, a runner-up in the TAC Cup Morrish Medal, said.
“I didn’t want to just come down here and be seen as one of those blokes who just comes up, plays for a bit of money and as soon as the game is over, nicks off back to Melbourne. I wanted to put back into the league and put my hand up at every opportunity I was given.
“Especially coming up with Edgy (Edgcumbe) and having his family links and ties within the club, you don’t want to be seen as the bloke that is just a mercenary or money-hungry.”
Kelly, who lives in Glen Waverley, said he had started the season strongly, but had struggled with heavy tags in past weeks.
“Probably during the last four or five weeks of the season I was copping some pretty hard tags. It wasn’t so much that, but it was the ground conditions on top of the tags,” he said.
“It’s very hard to break away from someone and really dominate a game when you have got someone hanging off you and the ground is a bog heap.
“Overall I’ve had a pretty good season and I was rapt to get second in the league best and fairest. I was just hoping for a top 10 finish, let alone finish second.”
While the game has taken Kelly many places, the top prize at senior level has eluded him.
Grand final defeats in the seconds at Port Melbourne and last year with Vermont have left him hungrier than ever for the ultimate success.
And he appears well placed to make this season count, with the Roos needing to overcome just one more hurdle before their place on the grand final stage is secure.
“I haven’t won a senior premiership, so I’m itching to get one,” Kelly said.