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Ex-Demon on ‘Dec’: Keilty signing a boost for Bentleigh

Declan Keilty was a player in demand after being delisted by Melbourne at the end of last season but the Southern league Demons trumped all comers for his signature.

Moorabbin Glen Eira Leader

May 13, 2020 12:30pm

Declan Keilty marks for Melbourne against Richmond’s Jack Graham in last season’s JLT series.

The destination is Bentleigh. The source is the AFL.

Not often does a player join the SFNL directly from league football, so it was presumably with great satisfaction that Bentleigh lodged its clearance for delisted Melbourne big man Declan Keilty.

Recruiting is often a frustrating and fickle business for clubs.

In the case of the delisted AFL Demon becoming a Southern Demon, it was all done quickly and quietly.

Bentleigh announced Keilty’s arrival at its presentation night early last October; it would have been entitled to award itself a trophy for pulling off such a coup.

Only a few weeks earlier Keilty had been let go by Melbourne, and as a 196cm player capable of slotting into the forward and backlines and even the ruck, he was a young man in demand.

But his friendship with Bentleigh player Ashley Di Ciero and the fact he was living locally (at Murrumbeena) kicked in for the Demons.

He had even dropped in to watch the club during the season.

“Ash is one of my good mates from school,’’ Keilty was saying on Tuesday.

“We went to school together. He’s from Traralgon and played VFL for Williamstown for a few years.

“Through him I met a few of the other players and it went from there. I was pretty keen to have a year away from all the stress of the AFL and the VFL. So it was good timing for me and for Bentleigh. I wanted to get it sorted out pretty quickly so it wouldn’t be interrupting my life. I was in the middle of exams (he is studying psychology at Swinburne University) … talking to Peter (Bentleigh coach Peter Pirera), I had a good connection with him, and the things he said about the club where the things I was looking for. It was actually a pretty easy decision for me to sign.’’

The stress of the AFL and VFL?

Keilty, 24, felt the pressure of football last season. He was in his third year with Melbourne and in the previous two he hadn’t managed a senior game, chipping away at Casey Demons.

When coach Simon Goodwin pulled him aside for a chat last year, he wasn’t exactly expecting to be offered a long-term deal.

He was on the edge, a player trying to hold on.

Go back to 2015 and he was a player trying to get a hold, having joined Casey after a stint with Gippsland Power in the Under 18s.

Bentleigh recruit Declan Keilty had three seasons with Melbourne.

But he stayed in the VFL for the next two seasons. By the time he was called up for an AFL debut, in Round 7 last year against Hawthorn, he’d played 64 VFL games. He also played in Round 8, but his second game for the Demons turned out to be his last.

“The main stresses I felt were you can’t ever appear to be relaxing,’’ Keilty said.

“You can’t really have a day off, you can’t really put in a half-effort because someone’s always watching you. Whatever you do, you get scrutinised and you’ve got to make sure you’re on top of your game. Through my first two-and-a-half years it was easier because I had a goal in mind, then slowly it kind of grinds at you and affects you. It affects people in different ways, and the stress got to me at the end of my third year.

“I probably wasn’t playing my best footy, and that was the time I needed to be playing my best footy.

“Simon was pretty honest with me. Halfway through last year he laid out how my second half of the year needed to look to stay on the list. I could see it (being delisted) happening, so I started to get things in place for the worst-case scenario. Obviously I was disappointed and shattered but I’d prepared myself for it.’’

Keilty said playing at Bentleigh would allow him to focus on his studies, enjoy his football and “just get my get planted in life’’.

He said he had settled in well at Bentleigh, appreciating the many welcomes.

But just when he lines up for the Demons is the great unknown. The waiting game goes on for local football.

He’s been keeping fit by running with his dog and doing ball work with his twin sister, Emily, herself an accomplished footballer.

“All the guys I’ve spoken to, even the AFL guys, are keen to get back,’’ Keilty said.

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