The man that drafted Josh Kennedy to Carlton in 2005 says he initially feared his kicking would be his weakness as the dual Coleman medallist edges closer to 700 career goals.
Kennedy, 34, needs just four majors to become the first Eagle to reach the milestone, which could come as soon as West Coast’s game against Richmond on Friday night at Optus Stadium.
Former Carlton recruiting manager Wayne Hughes said it didn’t surprise him the former Blue went on to have a decorated career with West Coast, although there was one thing he was concerned about early on.
“I thought his kicking was going to let him down for a little while,” Hughes told The West Australian. “But he managed to sort it all out – I just know he would have worked on it as hard as anybody.”
For the first 11 of his 696 goals, Kennedy wore the navy No.5 after being taken at pick four in the 2005 draft.
Hughes revealed the Northampton product could have gone as high as the first pick if not for the chess game leading up to the draft that year involving Carlton, Collingwood and Hawthorn – who held the top four picks.
“It’s no secret; we actually thought that Josh was probably the best player available in the draft,” Hughes said.
“But we were after another midfielder as well, and we got Marc Murphy to commit to not going to Brisbane under the father-son rule. The only way I could do that was to take Marc at one because Collingwood would have picked him at two.
“We’d actually gone to see Josh on the Tuesday before the draft; Hawthorn rang me on the Wednesday and told me I’d wasted my time – that they were picking him. Then, as it turned out, Collingwood surprised everybody by picking Dale Thomas (at two), and the Hawks went for Xavier Ellis (at three).
“So that left us with Josh at pick four. We were delighted.”
Two years later, Carlton had pick one, pick three, 20 and Josh Kennedy (signed to the club on a two-year deal), but Brownlow medallist and 2006 West Coast premiership player Chris Judd wanted to return home and play for the Blues.
For the Eagles, it was pick one or Kennedy. “They wanted Josh”, Hughes said.
The Blues were determined to select ruckman Matthew Kreuzer with the first pick, so despite “cries” from Carlton for West Coast to take another player – which was not Brendan Fevola – the Eagles swooped on a reluctant Kennedy, pick three (Chris Masten) and pick 20, while Judd got the No. 5 Blues jumper and a long-term, big-money contract.
“There wouldn’t be a person at Carlton more disappointed than me (about Kennedy leaving). But that’s the way it goes, and it’s a club decision, so it got done,” Hughes said.
“It’s funny, I got no credit for the Chris Judd deal at the time, and now they blame me for it.”
Since Judd’s retirement and Kennedy’s emergence as one of the best key forwards of the modern era, the debate has raged on over who won the trade, but 685 goals and a premiership medal later, most West Coast fans are fairly content that a then-20 -year-old Kennedy made his way back west.
Since then, the Eagles’ No. 17 has been named an All-Australian on three occasions, a Coleman medallist on two and an AFL premiership player once – as well as being the club’s all-time leading goal-scorer.
As he runs out against Richmond at Optus Stadium, after breaking Tiger hearts with the match-winning goal at the same venue in round 13 last season, the 34-year-old will be just four goals away from yet another achievement from his 283 AFL games.
With Kennedy’s 16-year career likely coming to an end after the 2022 season, Hughes said he’s proud and very pleased Kennedy lived up to the potential he saw in him all those years ago.
“He’s a star, and I’m glad it’s worked out for him,” Hughes said.
“What Josh proved was that the selection wasn’t wrong. It’s just that he was able to do it (live up to his potential) at another club.”