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Josh Kennedy on the Eagles, Lecca and long-awaited return for Northampton

Jake Santa MariaGeraldton Guardian
Josh Kennedy of the Eagles celebrates his final match with the fans during the 2022 AFL round 21 match between the West Coast Eagles and the Adelaide Crows at Optus Stadium on August 7, 2022 in Perth.
Camera IconJosh Kennedy of the Eagles celebrates his final match with the fans during the 2022 AFL round 21 match between the West Coast Eagles and the Adelaide Crows at Optus Stadium on August 7, 2022 in Perth. Credit: Daniel Carson/AFL Photos

The sight of Josh Kennedy running around in the green-and-gold colours of his old club, the Northampton Rams, on Sunday will be a bucket list moment for the man himself, countless local fans and Mid West footy in general.

Making the homecoming even sweeter is that Kennedy will be joined by fellow premiership Eagle and good mate Mark LeCras, with the pair making good on a pact years in the making.

At the start of the Great Northern Football League season, Towns versus Northampton in round 10 at Wonthella would hardly have raised an eyebrow, but now it is the biggest fixture of the season as Kennedy makes his return to footy and the Rams.

When Kennedy announced his retirement last year, he vowed to one day to play again for the Rams, play again with LeCras and share a game with fellow Northampton junior and Geelong premiership champion Harry Taylor.

Kennedy will be able to cross two things off that list when he runs out for the Rams on Sunday in the curtain-raiser for the WAFL match between East Fremantle and Peel Thunder, and is looking forward to a return in front of what is expected to be a bumper crowd of more than 1000 people.

In a wide-ranging interview this week with The Geraldton Guardian, Kennedy explained Sunday was “more than just me playing footy”.

Harry Taylor, Josh Kennedy and Andrew Lockyer with little fans in Northampton.
Camera IconHarry Taylor, Josh Kennedy and Andrew Lockyer with little fans in Northampton. Credit: Lisa Favazzo/The Geraldton Guardian

THE FOUNDATION OF A HOMECOMING

Kennedy admits he’s excited about Sunday, his first competitive game of footy since his last AFL game almost a year ago.

“It’s a pretty cool feeling to be able to go back out and play with the crowd you grew up playing with, I’m really excited to get the opportunity to do that,” he said.

“I can’t remember the last game I played for the Rams it would be 2004 I think, whether it was colts or league I’m not sure but I’m sure someone will be able to tell me on the weekend.

“But the day is about a bit more than just me playing, obviously the WAFL’s coming up and the money we’re raising throughout the whole day going towards junior clubs is the biggest thing.”

The WAFL clash is playing for the JK Foundation Cup, and funds raised from the day will go towards funding the registration for all junior footballers in the GNFL.

It follows on from last year’s hugely successful Seroja Cup in Northampton, which raised funds for cyclone recovery efforts in the Mid West.

The JK Foundation, which Kennedy set up after his retirement, is ramping up its support of regional athletes competing interstate or overseas.

“We’ve been lucky enough to help around 30 kids so far in the first six months in that area along with offering mentoring programs around that.,” Kennedy said.

“As a foundation, we are looking to grow and build out other programmes whether that’s in schools or camps and we’re still working through that.”

“But it’s been pretty cool to see and you know, I was very lucky, I had the opportunity to go down and play state football and my mum made a commitment and it was pretty tough.”

“There’s a lot of families who struggle with that opportunity so if we can help out in any way with that I will.”

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 29: Mark LeCras of the Eagles (left) and Josh Kennedy of the Eagles celebrate during the 2018 Toyota AFL Grand Final match between the West Coast Eagles and the Collingwood Magpies at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on September 29, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media)
Camera IconMark LeCras and Josh Kennedy celebrate the 2018 premiership. Credit: Michael Willson/AFL Media

MATES’ PACT HALF-COMPLETE

Witnessing Kennedy and LeCras — who boast 1164 AFL goals and 512 AFL games between them — sharing the field for the first time since the 2018 grand final will be a huge drawcard, with LeCras expressing his excitement last week.

“It came about from us both being country boys from the Mid West and being pretty proud of our footy clubs (Northampton and Cervantes),” LeCras said.

“It started off with will play a season each club, but I think as the bodies have got a bit older, it’s probably just going to dwindle down to just the one game each I think.

“It’s probably going to be about trying to get Kenners a few snags, but I’m just quietly trying to think about how I can maybe play a little bit higher forward and kick a few over his head. That’s probably my best bet to get on the scoreboard.”

Rewarded for taking risks: West Coast’s Josh Kennedy, left, and Mark LeCras celebrate last Saturday stirring win over Essendon. Picture: Lucas Dawson/Getty Images
Camera IconJosh Kennedy and Mark LeCras have been long-time teammates. Credit: Lucas Dawson/Getty Images

Kennedy is looking forward to reuniting with his old friend.

“It’s been a long time, he’s a great friend of mine we’ve played a lot of footy together and I’m grateful that he said yes to coming up to Northampton and it’s something I’ll be thankful for,” he said.

“I think for most of my career he was kicking me a lot of the footy and I was very grateful for that but I can’t see too much of that on the weekend. If he gets the ball he’s going straight over my head between the big sticks.”

ONE-OFF OR MORE TO COME?

After joining in the occasional training session with Northampton, Kennedy is undecided on whether this appearance will be a one-off for the year. Much may lie on how his body holds up.

“I’m trying to preseason and couple nights here and there and there were a few times where I was at my threshold and pulled up really sore, which was kind of good because the body was telling me I made the right choice by retiring,” he said.

“It’s just maybe being smarter in training in the body, but I’ve been able to play and chase my kids, which has been a nice thing to be able to do.”

LeCras admits he’s not confident his body will hold up, after not playing for Cervantes since last year’s grand final when he tore his calf and hamstring.

Unfortunately, Harry Taylor will not be playing on Sunday as he will be away and also picked up an injury at country week last weekend.

But the former Geelong great will team up with LeCras and Kennedy for a skills session on Saturday morning, but Kennedy is hopeful of playing a game with Taylor in the near future.

“I’d love to play another game in probably next year, just with things settling down with work and I’ll probably play more games,” he said.

JK’S TAKE ON WEST COAST’S SEASON

While Kennedy has been focusing on work outside footy, setting up his foundation, returning to live in the Mid West and his return for Northampton, he has been keeping an eye on his old club’s fortunes, or more accurately the lack of them.

He’s confident West Coast — with just one win under their belt so far this season with a multitude of 100-point plus thrashings and a horror run with injuries — can bounce back from a woeful 2023.

“It’s been tough, you step out a player and instantly become a fan and I suppose as a fan you do get quite frustrated watching, but from being inside last year, and knowing what they’re going through, like previously in my career (referencing finishing last in 2010), you know that nothing lasts forever,” he said.

“Right now it’s tough, there’s been injuries and certain things over the years you’d probably like to change in terms of whether it’s development, or whatever it is, but those things will get ironed out.

“We’re never down for that long and it’s been because we’ve had good management, whether things need to change I’m not too sure, but we’ve got some really good young kids currently playing at the moment.

“Whether that takes one year, two years or four or five years it’s not that long compared to what some other clubs have been through and I’m sure we’ll be back up playing finals.”

Kennedy also said he would love to see the Eagles and Dockers make a trip back to Geraldton for a preseason game like they did in 2017.

“It was that fantastic for the clubs to come up because it’s actually not too far away and the town’s big enough to handle the two teams coming in,” he said.

Josh Kennedy - PERTH, AUSTRALIA - JULY 10: Josh J. Kennedy of the Eagles kicks on goal during the round 17 AFL match between the West Coast Eagles and the Carlton Blues at Optus Stadium on July 10, 2022 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)
Camera IconJosh Kennedy is worried about getting a kick on Sunday. How many goals do you think he’ll boot? Credit: Paul Kane/Getty Images

“There are also enough schools and visits to certain services around the area, which is great, so it’d be great to be able to get back up.”

WORRIED ABOUT GETTING A KICK

But right now West Coast’s greatest-ever goal kicker is just looking forward to getting back on the field and wanted to thank everyone who was involved in bringing the game together.

“Andrew Lockyer has been massive obviously, last year was the Seroja Cup and obviously this huge mountain of work to get things off the ground and to create something that’s hopefully going to be a staple for years to come,” he said.

“Also to the Johnson family from TMS and their sponsorship support for getting the game off the ground.

“But from my end just being able to get out there and have a kick, whether I get or kick or not who knows, but just being out there and running with the mates from training and have that feeling again.”

Kennedy, LeCras and the Rams will take on Towns at 11.40am on Sunday at Wonthella Oval, while Kennedy, LeCras, Taylor and East Fremantle players will host a skills session at Stow Gardens from 9am on Saturday.

The Towns v Rams game will be broadcast live and free on Streamer.

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