PUBLICLY, Geelong remained positive throughout 2019 that Tim Kelly would remain with the club beyond this year.
But behind the scenes the Cats had resigned themselves to believing it would have been "remarkable" if he had signed a contract extension with the club.
List manager Stephen Wells told this week's Road to the Draft podcast, brought to you by Hostplus, that the Cats had planned for Kelly's departure all season after his failed bid to head to West Coast at the end of last year.
"I must admit all year we were doing our work as if he was going to go home. It was going to be remarkable for him to not want to go home," Wells said.
"But we did everything we possibly could, we made him contract offers, and I think that Tim and his family had a more enjoyable second year in Geelong.
"It was a little bit easier in the second year, and to Tim and Caitlin's great credit they did it all themselves and fitted in really well in the Geelong community, but the call of home and getting a good contract offer as well meant all year we were preparing as if he was going to go home but hoping he wasn't."
The Cats completed the deal with the Eagles three days into the Telstra AFL Trade Period, receiving picks 14, 24 and 37 and a future first-round pick in exchange for Kelly, pick 57 and a future third-round selection.
It was a huge return for a player they selected at pick No.24 only two years earlier, but the 25-year-old had blossomed into one of the competition's leading midfielders and was second in the Cats' best and fairest in both seasons at the club.
Wells said it wasn't easy letting go of a player of Kelly's ilk, but that the deal was fair and that they conceivably "could have gotten a bit less".
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"It was difficult in a couple of ways. It was difficult internally to get everybody understanding an agreeing that we probably just had to make the most of the situation we were put in," Wells said.
"We weren't dealing with a club that had top-10 picks and we weren't going to be able to convince Tim to come back, and that disappointed all of us. In the end we had to do the best we could out of it all.
"To West Coast's great credit, they were willing to talk to us about what was a fair and reasonable trade, and it was a big trade, but they were getting a star player. It was done as well as it possibly could be done."
TRADE TRACKER Check out all the moves as they happened
Kelly signed a six-year deal with the Eagles. He averaged 25.4 disposals and a goal a game in 25 appearances last season and was also named in the Virgin Australia AFL All Australian side.