WEST Coast champion Josh Kennedy had the ability to captain the club, according to his teammates, but it's possible the leadership position he carved out for himself was even more valuable for this Eagles generation.  

Kennedy was an official leader in some capacity for 12 unbroken years, joining the leadership group under Darren Glass as a 22-year-old in 2010 and staying there until he stepped down at the end of 2021.   

But rather than ever being the front man, he found his niche as a quiet leader with a personal touch who would take teammates for a beer or a coffee if he thought they needed direction.  

 Inevitably, he would spend time with players who were rougher around the edges and adjusting to the AFL's demands, lending an empathetic ear and providing an example to follow.  

Darren Glass is chaired off by Dean Cox and Josh Kennedy during round eight, 2013. Picture: AFL Photos

There is a definite sense this week that the Eagles are losing their spiritual leader on-field and a heart and soul player. But for captain Luke Shuey, they are also losing one of the club's great off-field teachers.

"The best thing about JK's experience is he was never a saint in his early days. He was a bit of a risk taker and at times a bit of a rule breaker," Shuey told AFL.com.au this week. 

"But as his journey went on, he had the experience to work with guys who may have struggled with their professionalism.

"As a young guy, I can recall if you ever needed advice from an older guy or wanted to be told what to do, it was always nice knowing someone had been through the same thing as you.

"Josh was always that guy who would be a shoulder to lean on for guys who were no saints in their early days and probably needed a bit more guidance off-field."

West Coast's Josh J. Kennedy celebrates the win with Luke Shuey during round 13, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Kennedy was first recognised as a leader in 2010 because of his training standards, quickly becoming one of the club's fittest players after crossing from Carlton at the end of 2007.

He was appointed joint vice-captain with Scott Selwood as a 26-year-old, going on to hold the position outright in 2016 and then sharing it with Shuey (2017-19) and defender Jeremy McGovern (2020).  

Shuey, who has valued Kennedy's "devil's advocate" approach as a sidekick, has no doubt the dual Coleman medallist and three-time All Australian could have captained the club himself from the age of 25 onwards.  

Josh Kennedy and Shannon Hurn with the premiership cup after the Eagles' 2018 Grand Final win over Collingwood. Picture: AFL Photos

"He could have done it when 'Bunga' (Hurn) did it, and he certainly could have done it when I took over," Shuey said.

"But I don't think people appreciate how important a vice-captain is, and he was the perfect vice-captain. He really enjoyed that role and he fitted the mould perfectly.  

"He doesn't love the spotlight, which is funny to say about someone who is the club's all-time leading goalkicker.

"But behind the scenes he is one of the best leaders I've ever come across."

McGovern was one of those young players who also arrived at West Coast with some rough edges and looked to Kennedy as a standard bearer he could follow without changing who he was.

He said Kennedy had played that valuable role for plenty of teammates, including key defender Tom Barrass, who joined the leadership group himself this season, and small forwards like Liam Ryan and Willie Rioli.  

Josh Kennedy and Liam Ryan celebrate winning the 2018 Toyota AFL Grand Final. Picture: AFL Photos

"That's the biggest thing with JK, and I don't even reckon he realised he was doing it, but he was actually setting an example for boys to get a good balance in their footy," McGovern said.

"He loves a beer and loves enjoying himself outside of footy, and he is a bit of a lad. But he's a professional as well.

"For me coming through, it was great to see someone with the same interests who could do it in the right way. It gave blokes like me and others at the footy club someone to follow.

"You could have a beer on Saturday night, but you're rocking up Monday and JK's already there and he's the first one in training his arse off."

Josh Kennedy with his wife Lauren and daughters Lottie and Sage after announcing his retirement on August 2, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

McGovern agrees Kennedy could have captained the Eagles, but also believes he was the perfect counterbalance to Hurn and Shuey when he was vice-captain.

The one aspect of leadership that didn't suit him, McGovern said, was the final rally for the team pre-game when he was captain for a match.

"He'd get a bit rattled with that, big Joshy," McGovern said.  

"There were multiple times where he'd get going and then just say, 'Boys I've forgotten where I was going. Let's get out there and get into it'.

"The boys loved it. Even just the way he spoke, he could stuff it up, but you could still hear the passion and spirit he had."

Josh J. Kennedy leads the Eagles out onto the field ahead of a round eight, 2021 game against Hawthorn. Picture: AFL Photos

McGovern believes Kennedy has been the Eagles' spiritual leader through this era and a cultural driver for the player group.

His remarkable consistency as a player, kicking 715 goals from 292 games going into his finale, will make him incredibly difficult to replace on-field.

But off-field it is clear he is going to leave a significant hole as a "heart and soul" player for both the players and the fans.

WHO'S CALLED IT QUITS 2022's retirements and delistings

"I call him the people's champ. He's a man of the people, a man of the boys, and everyone who's played with him loves him," McGovern said.

"He was the culture guy, the spirit guy, and he'd always have your back, no matter what. Then it was 'follow me boys, I'll show you how to do it'. That was him."