GWS star Josh Kelly ahead of the Giants' round three clash with Carlton. Picture: AFL Photos

LIFE at the Giants has changed this season for Josh Kelly. He has a new coach in Adam Kingsley and different responsibilities after being the club's co-captain in 2022 for the season.

Ahead of the Giants' clash with the Western Bulldogs in Canberra on Saturday, Kelly chatted to Callum Twomey for Cal's Q&A this week about the different feel at the Giants, his reaction to the captaincy call, knocking back North Melbourne's big offers to stay loyal to GWS and how he plans to play well into his 30s.   

I imagine the club is a pretty good place to be after a one-point, come-from-behind win over Sydney.

Yeah it is. We'd had some really competitive and tight games that we'd stayed in but in the end hadn't got the job done so to be able to get a really strong win like that and a bit of reward for the new things we've implemented was really good for the group to get that proof that what we're doing is right and we just need to keep working at it. You don't want to judge yourself on wins and losses all the time but it is always nice when you get a good win.

How different has this year felt for you? New coach, a new-look midfield, new faces.  

It's very different. I had the same head coach all the way through with Leon (Cameron) but also a lot of familiar faces all the way through as well. We had a lot of fun over the years and although not the ultimate success, we had a lot of success in that time as well, but the fresh start, new faces, new ideas and philosophies, have been really exciting for a whole bunch of us. What 'Kingers' (Kingsley) has brought in with his ideas culturally but also the game plan we're trying to play has been an exciting one. It's not going to be perfect overnight, but we'll keep working on those areas and hopefully keep getting better so our footy for our fans and the general public is an exciting brand to watch.

Adam Kingsley speaks to his Greater Western Sydney players during round seven, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Leon's first season as head coach was your first year at the club back in 2014. How much of a change has that been for you personally in getting to know Adam?

It's definitely been a big adjustment because he was the only coach I had at AFL level. It was nine years and we played a lot of big games and finals under Leon, so it's definitely been an adjustment in that sense. But the way Kingers and the coaching staff have come in has been pretty unreal. They've been able to connect with the group but also get their philosophies and game plan in relatively quickly and get everyone on board with that. There's a whole bunch of boys whose form is testament to that.

On a personal level, there's been the captaincy adjustment for you as well after being in the role alongside Toby Greene and Stephen Coniglio last year. How was that for you?

I think it was the right decision in the end. Toby's one of the best players in the game but also when you walk out behind him you do feel taller and there's a real presence about him. Of course it was an honour captaining the Giants and something I would have done for as long as it was entrusted in me but we've seen the way Toby has led this year and the football he's played on the back of that. His leadership behind closed doors Monday to Friday has only gotten stronger and stronger and that will continue. 'Cogs' (Coniglio) and I will do our best to support him and impact around the club where we can but all in all I think it was the right decision for Toby to captain the club.

Stephen Coniglio, Josh Kelly and Toby Greene ahead of GWS's game against Collingwood in round 15, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Does it come with any tinge of disappointment you weren't able to grow into the role and would you put your hand up for it down the track?

I'm not sure where that lands. As long as Toby wants to be captain going forward I think he's going to do a really good job. It was an honour to be captain and something everybody would be pretty humbled by and take the opportunity to do. It was only a year for me but I think Toby is doing a fantastic job.

As a senior group, what are you doing to fast-track this squad to be back in contention?

A lot of it is about ingraining training habits and trying to upskill young boys as quick as you can and getting them used to the AFL environment so the ability to keep working on your craft or addressing certain game plan areas is there. There's a whole bunch of that but then it's just trying to get these kids to feel confident and believe in their ability. That's the environment we're trying to build. We do have a young club but we also have a really strong core of players who have been around a while and have played in some big games of footy. I think that mix is really healthy.

Greater Western Sydney players celebrate a win against Sydney during round seven, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

You'll be close to 200 games by the end of this season all going well. How is that to think about?

It's pretty surreal. You hear a lot of people talk about it but you don't take stock too much during your career. You get into the cycle of a season and one season ticks over to the next and a lot of it you're just trying to focus on playing your best football and trying to win games. Then all of a sudden milestones – and I'm not there yet – are the moments where you do reflect a little bit. There's no doubt it's surreal and when my career started you don't set out and say 'I can't wait to play 200 games' but those things are special along the way and things to celebrate with my family, those closest to me and the footy club.

TOM GREEN How shock axing helped Giants gun reach another level

The first interview we did was in 2012 when you were 17 and a chance to be in the GWS 'mini draft' at that point when other clubs could have picked you a year before your draft. Do you ever think about how it would have altered your footy future?

Not as much with that year. I remember the mini draft and it always felt pretty set that it was going to be Jack (Martin) and Jesse (Hogan). My name might've been chucked in there for a bit of conversation at the time. But the next year with the draft that's when things changed a bit and I wasn't certain where I was going to go. In the lead-up the Giants traded up and got into pick No.2 and pretty quickly the word was that they'd take me. It changed a bit for me but all along the way I was excited about the journey and opportunity. I'd never really planned about where I'd be, I just wanted to play AFL football. That's been my mindset all along.


I remember a recruiter that year saying wherever you were picked, you'd stay because of your character and loyalty being important to you. Was that your perspective as well?

For sure. I remember when the Giants presented to me before I was drafted and straight away I was all-in on the football club. You can't plan out your journey from afar but once I was inside the club and you form relationships and you care about the people around you and you want to have success with them, that's always been pretty important to me.

You had a bit of a curse for a while there, didn't you? You lived with Tom Boyd, then Jack Steele, then Adam Treloar who all left in those years?

Yeah, it was a bit of a revolving door. In the end I just moved out and lived by myself. It made it a bit easier for everyone.

(L-R): Cameron McCarthy, Tom Boyd and Josh Kelly pose after being selected in the 2013 NAB AFL Draft. Picture: AFL Photos

Throughout that period, the Giants continued to build – the 2016 preliminary final, the 2019 Grand Final. How were those years as a young club getting so close?

It was an unreal time, to be honest. It happened pretty quickly in 2016. All of a sudden in the back half of that year we were playing the best footy we'd ever played and I remember feeling pretty unstoppable. We were playing free-flowing football and ultimately that wasn't to be. We had a pretty unreal preliminary final against the Bulldogs who were flying at that time and it didn't go our way. That whole period of football we really felt like success was on the brink. Ultimately we didn't get the premiership but I remember the feeling in the football club our aim was to win premierships and when you're at that consistency and playing finals each year and trying to get to the pointy end of the finals, it's a pretty good place to be. We had a lot of people playing great football and a really good culture. I feel that's been pretty consistent throughout my time at the Giants. We've always strived for finals and haven't wanted to settle for anything less and I don't think that's changed. There's different people now but I feel like that culture that was established through those years is something that lasts.

RIVALRY ROUND? New-old foes to fire up as Giants aim to put bite on Dogs

Are the memories of the Grand Final against Richmond vivid for you?

The day obviously wasn't great, but the month and that whole finals series was pretty special. The pathway we took, the close games we had, the prelim against Collingwood in hanging on in that game and what that culminated in playing on Grand Final day was pretty surreal and amazing. The day didn't go to plan and you'd love to have it back and do it over and hopefully have a different outcome but that's part of the journey. I'd still say that year was enjoyable and pretty successful.

Adam Tomlinson, Callan Ward and Josh Kelly after GWS' loss to Richmond in the 2019 Grand Final. Picture: AFL Photos

Part of your journey has been the big decisions you've made to stay at the Giants. That 2019 season you knocked back interest from the Kangaroos, and then again in 2021 to lock in at the Giants for another eight years through to 2029. What goes into a big, life-shaping decision like that? It is stressful, exciting, is there trepidation there?

No doubt all of the above. I tried to put it into the background and focus on football and for the most part that was relatively easy to do but when the pointy end comes and you need to make a really big decision like that I spent a lot of time talking to family and friends and even the closest people inside the football club as well. They're not easy decisions at the time but that's been part of my journey and something I wouldn't change. I do remember having times when it felt overwhelming in a sense but it's all part of it.

Your dad Phil obviously played at the Roos. Did his history there play much of a part?

Through that period I was pretty open in saying that was a factor in wanting to play for the club that my dad played for and that had always been the decision I had to make – the Giants or Kangaroos. But in the end it was always pretty important to me that I felt we were on the brink of success at the Giants and always pushing for a premiership. But also the relationships I built over the years at the club were pretty special to me.

The contract takes you through to when you're 34 and I know you've always liked your American sports. A lot of their top athletes play well into their 30s. Is that an ambition for you as well?

Absolutely. There's a lot of room for that now in sport. There's new science and new methods that can allow people to play deeper into their 30s or just prolong their career in general. That's absolutely my goal and mindset. I want to be playing strong football for a long time coming. Part of that is staying healthy but part of it is also wanting to continually improve and American sports are a bit of a motivation in that sense. You see outliers like Tom Brady but there is room for that. It is the aim and I'll see how I go.

You saw LeBron James play recently didn't you? He's 38…

I saw him over in LA which was pretty special. He has an aura around him. I went to a few other games but there was something special about seeing LeBron.

Does it feel like it's come full circle for you when a guy like Finn Callaghan comes to the club, pick No.3, Sandy Dragons player, left footer, plays on a wing?

Personally I still feel young and I have a lot of footy left at 28. But when you do have kids like Finn come in it can feel a bit full circle. I have a different role to play in upskilling Finn and getting him to play his best footy as quick as he can. Reflecting on it now it is funny when you have kids come into the system and they're almost 10 years younger but I still feel like I have plenty left and am also keen to help them play some good footy.

Josh Kelly (right) presents Finn Callaghan with his jumper on debut during round five, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Tasmania is coming into the competition. What would you say about being a part of a new club for players who will join them and be drafted by them? 

I wasn't there at the start of the Giants but I take a lot of pride out of being that first group of players establishing the club, establishing the culture. There's only one group of firsts I guess, so I take a lot of pride in being in that wave for the Giants so that's an opportunity that the Tassie team will have and is something that whether I win a premiership, premierships or whatever my pathway from here is, I feel like I've always got the fact I was able to help build a culture and help build a football club. That will always be special.

We'll finish with this one. Who are the players who inspire you around the AFL?

I've always looked at Scott Pendlebury and been amazed at what he's been able to do so consistently. He rarely has a bad game, is still playing some of his best football, plays his role, puts the team first. He's always been one I've looked at. Another one is Travis Boak. He's in the same mould and always plays great footy despite getting on in his career. He had 30-odd touches last week and impacted the game massively. Those two stand out in that sense but it's still very surreal in playing against certain players you look up to. I never take it for granted.