Classy. Professional. A footballer. These are some of the ways to describe Swans legend Josh Kennedy, who is retiring at the end of 2022.
Over his 15 years in the AFL system, Kennedy has made some sort of impact. It may not have been what was initially envisioned, but it was something that no one would say no to.
So, where did it all begin?
Son (and Grandson) of a Gun
The late John Kennedy Sr was a Hawthorn champion, winning four best and fairest awards and captaining the club in the 50s, then coaching the Hawks to their first three premierships in the 60s and 70s.
His son, John Kennedy Jr would continue his legacy, winning four premierships in the 80s in the brown and gold.
So, when his son, Josh, was drafted to the Hawks in 2006 under the father-son rule, it seemed like it would be written in the stars that he would be the third generation Kennedy to win a Hawthorn premiership.
Or would it?
While his talent was evident to those at Hawthorn, there was just no room for him in the Hawks’ star-studded lineup that would go on to win the premiership in 2008.
Kennedy managed to string together the last nine games of 2009 and was offered a one-year deal by the Hawks.
Up north, however, a team that would go on to become a famous sparring partner with Hawthorn throughout the next decade had another plan in mind for the young Hawk.
You got what I need
Much like Kennedy, Sydney was at a crossroads at the end of the 2009 season. It had missed the finals for the first time since 2002 and was facing the looming retirement of champion midfielder Brett Kirk.
The Swans liked what they saw lining up in the brown and gold, offered him a three-year contract, and a happy marriage began.
Paul Roos was coach of the Sydney Swans from 2002 to 2010, winning the 2005 premiership, and is the second longest serving coach in Swans history. He spoke about the decision to recruit Kennedy and his impact across the preceding decade.
“George Stone needs to take a lot of credit because we’ve always been a club that looked at players that weren’t getting a game, at other clubs. Like Ted Richards and Darren Jolly, and some that had been in and out of the team. And also, clubs that were really good footy clubs. So it was just part of our scouting strategy” Roos said.
“George Stone was really bullish on him, as the recruiters, and no one really knew anything about him because he hadn’t played a lot of footy. And when he was playing at Hawthorn he was mainly playing forward.
“We want to say we knew he’d be a superstar, but we’d be lying if we said that. We really thought he could fit into our team and be a really good player, but I’d be lying if I said we knew how good he was going to be.”Embed from Getty Images
“His cleanness around the footy, the fact that he never fumbled, and his size really stood out as well. He’s a big midfielder. We were optimistic but to get to the player that he’s been, to be honest, even if you take Pick 1 in the draft, what Josh Kennedy’s done has been amazing, incredible really.
“For a Pick 1, let alone a guy that we traded a back-end pick (Kennedy alongside Ben McGlynn was traded for picks 39, 46, and 70) for him, is just extraordinary.”
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“From a team point of view, the fact that one player couldn’t tackle him, so another player would have to come in, which meant that his handball went to a free Swans player, which created so much offence, that’s the thing that stood out.
“I look at Bernie Quinlan, who was impossible to tackle, and I look at Josh Kennedy, and he’s exactly the same. The guys you couldn’t tackle with one player.
“When you look at players like Clayton Oliver and Paddy [Patrick] Cripps, they just kill you, because they’re so dominant over the course of an hour and twenty minutes.
“They kill you because they just don’t stop. By the end of the game, you’re just like ‘jeez can this guy stop getting the ball he’s just killing us’ And that’s the strength of Joey Kennedy. He just destroyed teams.
“If you could pick a footballer, give me Joey Kennedy. He’s a footballer.”
Brothers In Arms
2012 saw Kennedy achieve the ultimate goal: team success. He was best and fairest in 2012 for the Swans and played a critical role in securing their fifth premiership over his old side, Hawthorn, and with it, formed an unbreakable bond with 21 others who took to the field that day.
Canadian import Mike Pyke played 110 games for Sydney, including the 2012 Premiership. He spoke about Kennedy as a teammate and the experience of playing in a premiership together.
“I reckon he has a bit of Roger Federer about him. But seriously I had little knowledge of his lineage and didn’t appreciate the significance of his move away from Hawthorn” Pyke said.
“He was pretty considered in the change room, so it took a while to peel back the onion.
“He will be remembered as a big game player. Notwithstanding his incredibly high, consistent performance week-in week-out.
“He wasn’t overly vocal, but he led with a certain confidence. I knew if Josh said, “get the ball here” and I could get it nearby, he’d find a way to win it. He made my ruckwork look a lot better than it was!.
“The 2012 group has a very strong bond. It’s very special. Josh was at the core of our success having won the B&F in 2012 and a number of other times during that period.”
Even in the Swans subsequent grand final defeats, Kennedy made sure of his impact. He led the Swans for disposals in 2014 with 29 and arguably had the Norm Smith around his neck at half-time of 2016, eventually finishing with 34 disposals and three goals.
Lead by Example
Even as the twilight of his career approached, Kennedy’s impact on his younger teammates never dwindled.
Last month, James Rowbottom, currently in the middle of a breakout season for the Sydney Swans, spoke about Kennedy’s impact off the field, after a hamstring injury ruled him out of most of 2022.
“I think Joey’s played a whole season, plus a few games, worth of finals in his career,” he said.
Another young player for the Swans also spoke about Kennedy’s impact.
Ben Ronke has played 44 games to date for Sydney and spoke about what Kennedy has provided across his career.
“I think it was more in a mental sense. When I first got to the club, I really took the most from Joey. I think he really set the bar in his training standards, he was just the ultimate professional, and the overall desire to get better, out of each session” Ronke said.
“His real passion in the team meetings was very evident from the start, that really set the bar for me, at the highest level in terms of a mental sense.
“If I could describe him in one word, it would be professional. I think he was the ultimate professional. He dragged others along with him, he wanted to be the best he could individually but also was a massive driver of team success.Embed from Getty Images
“That is why, on his footy gravestone, he’s known as one of the better big game players there was. I know his success in big games really dictates what sort of player he was.
“The biggest thing we’re gonna miss about him would be that, and his ability to get the boys up and drag them along, and not just provide leadership in meetings but out on the field in the biggest games.”
One final chapter?
Such is the character of Josh P. Kennedy that even with a recent aggravation of the hamstring injury that kept him out of most of the second half of the season for the Swans, there is still a faint glimmer of hope that Joey could take to the field one last time.
Kennedy remains determined to make it back for one last match, and it would be fitting if the champion who frequently carried the Swans on his back, would do it once more.
But even if Kennedy never takes the field again- his legacy is secure.
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