One day in the future Andrew Kelly might look back on the 2019/20 season as the fruiting of the vineyard.
That might seem strange – as Kelly has more than 100 caps for New Zealand and an impressive resume of other achievements – but it feels like everything clicked into gear over the last 12 months.
He produced his best ever performances on the national stage, ended a long period in the international wilderness and capped things off by being named in the Black Jacks squad for the World Championships on the Gold Coast (since postponed).
That productive period has been recognised in the best possible way, with the 32-year-old Kelly honoured as the 2020 Summerset Bowls New Zealand Male Player of the Year.
“He’s been on the radar for a number of years,” says Bowls New Zealand High Performance manager Kaushik Patel. “He came into the game at a young age, but as you do, certainly lived the life. He fell off the radar for a couple of years
but has matured a lot. He has a partner, a baby and has worked really well with his high performance coach Sharon Sims.”
“They came up with an individual performance plan together and he has worked out what it takes to be world class. He has made every post a winner and his success at the Nationals wasn’t anything to do with luck. That was Andrew Kelly doing everything right on and off the green.”
Kelly enjoyed a breakthrough tournament in Christchurch in January. He was in strong form all week in the singles but reached another level when it really mattered.
There was an emphatic 21-5 win over Dean Elgar in the semi-finals, before another convincing display in the final. Kelly was hunting his maiden singles title, but you wouldn’t have known, as he led 10-3 before closing with a four, two, three and two to beat Ryan Burnett (Broadbeach) 21-7.
“It had been a while since he had won a national title,” says Sims. “But he had been in a number of finals. He had plenty of confidence…you learn every time you are in a final. And he was completely focussed on what he was doing, and not who he was playing.”
Kelly’s willingness to put in a constant, consistent effort is the recipe for his success.
“He works really hard on all aspects of his game, not just on green and it’s all starting to come together,” says Sims.
“He keeps himself extremely fit and works hard on the mental side of the game. He is a joy to work with because he is always open to challenges, always looking to improve and never resting on his laurels.”
Kelly was a prodigious young talent. He reached a national fours final as a 17-year-old in 2006 – finishing runner up – and had already pocketed a bunch of centre titles by that stage.
His Black Jacks debut came in 2010 and he claimed national fours titles in 2012 and 2014. He has since garnered 105 national caps but there have also been sustained periods outside the Blacks Jacks and he has yet to feature in a Commonwealth Games team.
His progress at times was hampered by some indiscretions away from the green, as he struggled to find the right balance in his life.
“He has always been a very talented player,” says Sims. “He will acknowledge when he was first selected that he was a perhaps a bit too young. I say to people `Andrew the man is very different to Andrew the boy’ and that maturity has made a big difference to his game and how he prepares himself. He was always a good kid but also a bit of a character.”
After first observing him at the turn of the decade, Sims sensed a significant change when she began coaching him three years ago.
“We went to the Hong Kong pairs,” says Sims. “I was really impressed by him and his attitude.”
As well as his national singles success, Kelly also went all the way to the national pairs final (with Richard Hocking), before being beaten by the Wellington combination of Raymond Martin and Robbie Bennett.
Kelly also helped the Canterbury men’s team to a memorable success at the National Intercentre title, coming from 8-14 down to defeat Shannon McIIroy 25-24 in the final, in the best contest of the week.
Kelly also won the Stoke Stake’s men’s pairs (with Nathan Glasson).
“There were a few events that he chose not to play but his strike rate was very good,” says Sims. “When you first start out you want to play in everything but you learn over time to pick and choose especially when you have a family, you have to balance these things.”
Asked for his greatest strength, Sim’s nominates his versatility.
“He is a very good draw bowler, but the best thing is he is very adaptable,” says Sims. “He can play on a variety of surfaces. Some players are one trick ponies…good on fast or slow. He’s a good bet for the future in New Zealand.”
Senior Blackjacks Gary Lawson and Shannon Mcllroy were the other finalists in an extremely strong category.