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West Coast Eagles champion Josh Kennedy enchanted fans with his joy of the game

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6 days ago
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There is that undeniable sadness when a sportsperson who has entertained and enchanted us with their craft, finally hangs up their boots.

When West Coast Eagles champion Josh Kennedy announced he would be playing his last game this Sunday against the Crows, I was enveloped by that football funk.

For those that don’t embrace the irrational beauty of following a sporting team, feeling mildly melancholic about a player retiring would seem indulgent and misplaced.

But that dopey dolefulness is just what us fans do. It passes pretty quickly.

And while I dread having to mention the Dockers, I know Fremantle fans will be feeling that funk with the graceful and elegant David Mundy calling it a day.

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There aren’t many players that can elicit that type of emotion. That overwhelming feeling off, ‘we are seeing a once-in-a-generation player’.

But it’s more than just a certain footballer having an illustrious career. Only a rare few garnish that genuine affection and adoration from fans. It’s hard to recall rival supporters ever leaning over a fence wanting to give JK a gob full.

He was more than likely to get hugged.

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This might be a very simplistic analysis of why Kennedy is so revered and admired, but it’s because he approached the game with a sense of humour.

The three-time, All-Australian appeared to be enjoying himself. (I even found his self-deprecating, satirical mattress ads from 10 or so years ago amusing.) His joy for the game was infectious.

He seemed devoid of the ego and arrogance that some players carry with them. There is no denying the two-time Coleman Medallist will go down as one of the superstars of the game, but he is truly one of the great entertainers.
Even this year when he bounded around the turf with all the alacrity of a cross-country skier, his competitive desire and humour never waned.

The 34-year-old launching himself into packs against St Kilda in the hope of grabbing that one final screamer, was like watching a Lama trying to mount an electric bike.

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But he was a clutch player that delivered in games that mattered. His 2018 Grand Final performance is often overlooked but he got the Eagles back into the game in the first quarter when it looked like the Pies were running away with it. Kennedy was the Eagles only multiple goalkicker on the day with three.

West Coast Eagles’ coach Adam Simpson said Kennedy would do down as one of the greatest.

“I can remember the prelim against North Melbourne in 2015 where we were 20 points down, hadn’t scored a goal, and he took this contested mark 50m out and just rolled and slotted it,” he said.

“That just sums him up. He’s a big-game player, but he also loves his teammates and loves his club”.

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Watching former teammate and current Eagles’ runner Chris Masten run onto the ground and embraced Kennedy with all the tenderness and intimacy of a long-lost lover, after he kicked his 700th goal says it all.

Everyone loves JK.

Despite him losing his radar for a season or two with his peculiar, Fred Flintstones-type run up to goals, we still couldn’t hate him.

Josh Kennedy. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

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Ironically, Masten was involved with the trade that saw a reluctant Kennedy come to West Coast in exchange for Chris Judd going to Carlton.

Even when Kennedy arrived at the club in 2007 looking like he played bass in Radiohead, West Coast fans knew we were getting a ripper given Judd’s calibre.

Kennedy’s numbers are staggering given the way the game has evolved and become less reliant on power forwards to kick a swag of goals.

He will depart the game as West Coast’s leading goalkicker with 704 goals (currently) and ranked 24th for the most goals in VFL/AFL history. He has been the club’s leading goalkicker on seven occasions.

Those figures are even more impressive given Kennedy had to contend with two or three back men each week trying to disrupt his game.

It’s hard to imagine another Eagles’ player passing JK.

And while “who won the Kennedy v Judd trade” will erupt at pubs and BBQ’s for years to come, Kennedy emerges the victor simply on the basis of winning a flag.

It’s highly unlikely we will see another Kennedy. Or even a Mundy for that matter.

JK’s stature and might will grow with every mid-strength beer downed at Optus Stadium. After the siren sounds on Sunday, West Coast players will clumsily carry him off the ground to a standing ovation.

The football funk will eventually evaporate, but damn, JK is going to be sorely missed.

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