KELLY O’Donnell has joined two other former Kyabram footballers to be awarded a Life Membership of the Melbourne Football Club.
O’Donnell said it was an honour which meant “a hell of a lot” to him.
“It’s been a long journey,’’ he said.
‘‘I love the game. I love the club I was just really humbled by it and appreciative the club has seen fit to recognise me in this manner. I certainly don’t take it lightly.”
Other former Kyabram players who have received life memberships of Melbourne Football Club are Ray Manley (1987) and Garry Lyon (1995).
Manley didn’t play for the AFL Demons but was its secretary/manager from 1977 to July 1980, and again in 1985 and 1986.
He also worked in a number of other football department roles in-between.
Lyon is a Melbourne legend who played 226 games and kicked 426 goals for the club from 1986 to 1995.
He represented Victoria 10 times, captaining the State team in 1994.
Kelly O’Donnell was recruited by Melbourne from Kyabram in 1979 and played 80 senior games with the Demons until 1984. He kicked 67 goals in roles as a determined winger and rover.
After his time at Melbourne he was recruited by Fitzroy (now Brisbane Bears) in 1985 as part of the deal which saw Les Parish move to the Demons from Fitzroy.
But Kelly broke his shoulder in the pre-season and didn’t play a game for the Lions.
After his VFL career, O’Donnell played for Nightcliff Football Club in the Northern Territory. He then represented the NT in the 1988 Adelaide Bicentennial Carnival – a State of Origin tournament.
He then moved to be an assistant coach under his good friend and former Melbourne teammate Chris Connolly at Fremantle.
He moved back to Melbourne in 2007 to be a development coach and is currently involved in the club’s recruitment department.
O’Donnell played under legendary VFL/AFL players and coaches Ron Barassi and Carl Ditterich at Melbourne.
“I was a kid growing up in Kyabram and all I ever dreamed about was playing either Test cricket or VFL (AFL) footy,’’ O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell said he had a lot of time and respect for Barassi.
“He was fantastic. If you had a dip, trained hard and put your head down, then he gave you a go. That’s all you can ask as a player.
O’Donnell said he had relished being in recruiting and working with a close-knit team at Melbourne.
“I’ve really enjoyed the recruiting for the last six or seven years. It’s a great team to work with – it’s really positive. The fellas are so team orientated and park the egos at the doorstep and get to work,” he said.
In his time at Melbourne, O’Donnell rates the late, great Robert Flower as the standout performer.
“He was a great player and a great man,” he said.
He rates Fremantle great Matthew Pavlich as “a class act” and the best player he has coached. But he enjoyed coaching Jeff Farmer and Peter Bell, who was “a champion who got the most out of himself”.
At Melbourne, O’Donnell highlighted best and fairest winners Brent Moloney and Aaron Davey as two players he enjoyed coaching, as they took on advice and changed the way they played.
O’Donnell is married to Fairlie and they have two sons — Mac and Tom.