Beloved Cat James Kelly will come out of AFL retirement to bolster Essendon’s midfield in 2016.
The triple-premiership winner with Geelong has been lured back into the league by the depleted Bombers, committing to the club for the season ahead.
Essendon has been scouring former playing lists to find players to replace a dozen players who have been handed anti-doping suspensions.
Kelly, 32, was an obvious choice after facing a tough cut at Geelong at the end of the 2015 season.
The fan-favourite was squeezed out as the Cats seek to rebuild with younger players.
After turning out in the Northern Territory Football League since leaving Geelong, he now has the chance to add to his 273 AFL games in red and black.
Kelly confirmed his switch by tweeting “#donthesash” on Wednesday night.
An Essendon statement said while a contract had not yet been agreed, Kelly had given his word to join.
He joins fellow delisted midfielder Ryan Crowley as the first two top-up players to be signed by the ailing giant.
Crowley sat out most of the 2015 season after taking a prohibited substance.
He said he would offer to help banned Bombers cope with time on the sidelines.
“In time, I’d like to sit down and have a chat with them because it is a unique situation,” Crowley told reporters on Wednesday.
“I am someone who could give them an insight as to what it’s like.”
He said the 17 players, including 12 current Bombers, needed to lean on each other and work together.
“For me, it was quite a lonely place because it was only me going through it,” he said.
“I’m not going to hide it – there were times when it was really, really tough.”
The tagger, who played 77 consecutive games for Fremantle before his ban, said it had offered him the time to properly recover from various, small ailments accrued over the years.
“It was getting really tough but having that year off made my body feel great,” he said.
“So they can take some positives out of it too.”
Crowley trained with the team on Wednesday for the first time since signing to the Bombers.
Essendon can sign top-up players up until March 15 – less than two weeks before their round-one opening match against GWS.