Tim Kelly’s debut season in the AFL has been one of the best we have ever witnessed.
The mature-age Geelong midfielder, selected by the Cats with pick 24 in last year’s draft, continues to go from strength to strength.
Plucked from South Fremantle in the WAFL, 24-year-old Kelly is averaging just over 23 possessions, three marks, 3.6 tackles, 4.4 clearances and 3.7 inside 50s per game and has kicked 16 goals so far in 2018.
On the back of Kelly’s career-high 36-disposal game against reigning premiers Richmond in Round 20, we felt it appropriate to take a look at some of the best debut seasons in recent AFL history.
Obviously there is John Coleman’s quite brilliant 100 goals on debut in 1949, but we’ve opted to look at the past 30 or so years.
The best debut AFL seasons:
1990 – Chris Grant
The Footscray/Western Bulldogs champion kicked off a wonderful career with 51 goals from his first 20 matches.
Grant was just 17 when he debuted and became the youngest ever player in VFL/AFL history to kick 50 goals in a single season which saw him become the Bulldogs’ leading goalkicker that year.
It was his second best goals return in a lengthy career which also had him spend plenty of time in defence.
1991 – Allen Jakovich
The enigmatic Jakovich was dominant in his first 14 senior games for the Demons, kicking 71 goals and 57 behinds.
He reached the 50-goal milestone quicker than anyone in VFL/AFL history, taking just nine games to reach the half ton.
In that season from Round 15 to 21, he helped himself to bags of 8, 6, 6, 8, 7, 11 and 5 before kicking 8 in an Elimination Final then four goals from five kicks in a losing Semi Final.
Remarkably, Jakovich also snagged 60 goals in the reserves in the first half of the ’91 season. Unbelievable numbers.
1993 – Nathan Buckley
Nathan Buckley was always destined to be a big name in footy, evidenced by his debut season for Brisbane in 1993.
The man who would go on to captain and coach Collingwood played 20 games, picked up an average of 22.9 possessions and kicked 21 goals.
He showed class, composure and quality beyond his years in what was one of the best debut seasons we’ve ever witnessed.
1993 – Adrian McAdam
The unbelievably gifted McAdam delivered one of the greatest debut seasons we’ve ever seen in 1993.
Seven goals on debut for North Melbourne, backed up by a remarkable 10.6 and 14 marks in his second game which preceded a bag of six in his third outing.
McAdam finished the season with 68 goals and 43 behinds from 17 matches. Simply outstanding.
2000 – Paul Hasleby
Pick 2 in the 1999 draft did not disappoint for the Dockers in season 2000.
Hasleby played 21 games, averaged a tick over 21 touches and won individual awards including the NAB Rising Star and the Geoff Christian Medal (best player in Western Australia), which he shared with teammate Troy Cook.
Hasleby’s first season was just as good, if not better, than his second and third which were also extremely impressive.
2007 – Joel Selwood
What a debut season the current Cats skipper produced.
With an average of just under 20 touches per game, Selwood made himself a key member of Geelong’s premiership-winning side.
The fierce attack on the ball and courage at the contest we all are so accustomed to now was on display from the beginning, even as a teenager.
The NAB Rising Star, AFL Players’ Association Best First Year player and a flag kicked off a wonderful career.
2010 – Michael Barlow
Mick Barlow finally made it to the elite level in 2010 when Fremantle picked him up as a 21-year-old in the rookie draft via the VFL.
Barlow played 13 games, averaging a remarkable 27.9 touches and five tackles a game and tallied 12 Brownlow votes before his season was cruelly cut short by a badly broken leg.
The current Gold Coast Suns veteran also won the Ross Glendinning Medal in his first Western Derby against the Eagles in Round 6.
To top it off, Barlow was voted as the AFL Players’ Association Best First Year Player by his peers.
2013 – Jaeger O’Meara
There was plenty of hype surrounding O’Meara prior to his first season with the Suns.
And boy did he deliver, with an average of more than 21 disposals, 4.4 marks, five tackles and four clearances.
His follow-up year was just as impressive before injuries took hold prior to his move to Hawthorn in 2016.
2015 – Jesse Hogan
Hogan was unable to make his debut in 2014 because of a back injury but it was worth the wait for Demons fans.
The powerful forward kicked 44 goals in 20 matches, averaged 6.7 marks a game and took more than 50 contested marks inside 50 in his first season.
He produced all of this for a Demons team that won just seven games.
1993 – Matthew Richardson
Richardson’s journey to 800 goals for Richmond commenced with an impressive return of 31 majors in 1993.
The rangy and athletic Son of Bull managed the feat in 14 games with an average of 6.6 marks for a Tigers side that won only four games.
Also kicked 24 behinds so it could have been one of the great first seasons of all-time if not for some profligacy in front of the big sticks.
1996 – Ben Cousins
We remember Cousins as a dashing midfielder but his debut season, which was spent mainly as a forward, was notable.
He delivered 34 goals, averaged just under 14 disposals and subsequently won the NAB Rising Star award.
2002 – Chris Judd
While his average disposal numbers weren’t tremendous (15.1 per game), the way Judd went about it was captivating.
Judd’s explosive ability and cutting edge as a youngster had us spellbound early on and it continued for many years thereafter.
2008 – Rhys Palmer
Out of his ten AFL seasons, Palmer’s first with Fremantle was his best.
Over 20 matches he averaged 23 possessions and five marks and picked up seven votes in the Brownlow Medal and won the NAB Rising Star.
2010 – Tom Scully
The current GWS midfielder was prolific for Melbourne in 2010.
Scully averaged 21.5 possessions, ticked past 450 touches for the year, finished eighth in the Best & Fairest and it looked like bigger things were to come.
However, injury cut short his 2010 and he was soon off to the Giants much to the dismay of the Demons’ faithful.
2011 – Dyson Heppell
The debut AFL campaign of Heppell set the standard for what was to come for the Essendon skipper.
The 2011 NAB Rising Star almost cracked the 500-possession mark in his 23 games (averaging 21.4) and averaged 5.7 marks.
2012 – Dayne Zorko
After being overlooked on three occasions, Zorko finally made it to AFL ranks and produced an extremely impressive 2012.
He amassed over 300 possessions in his 16 games (at an average of 19.6), kicked 16 goals, averaged over six tackles and five inside 50s and picked up six Brownlow Medal votes.
2013 – Brett Goodes
Another mature-age recruit who produced an impressive first season in the AFL.
While his career at the elite level lasted just 22 matches, Goodes averaged 20 disposals, five marks and 4.2 rebound 50s in his 13 matches across half-back for the Bulldogs.