EVER SINCE walking into the doors at IKON Park some seven years ago, Matthew Kennedy has just about always had a smile on his face.

It’s his thing.

The jovial 26-year-old has always taken it upon himself to be, as the AFL Senior Coach might say, the “giver of joy”. It was particularly prevalent throughout 2023, as Carlton’s season went from the doldrums to delight.

But there was a time that while Kennedy wore a smile on his face, he was having something of an identity crisis behind the scenes.

Growing up in country New South Wales, Kennedy has always been a practicing Catholic. It was a simpler time: mass on a Sunday, and a choppy from the local IGA on the way home.


But he found the need to suppress his faith when life in football was starting out.

“I felt like I was almost living a double life at times. I was Matt Kennedy the football player and one of the boys, and also on a Sunday I went to mass and I was a practicing Catholic,” Kennedy told 9 News Melbourne.

“Not many boys at that stage in my life were practicing Catholics. I feared not fitting in — I just wanted to be one of the boys.

“I remember as a kid, I almost had that craving for an athlete to come out and be open and honest about their faith. The more I can speak about it, it might help a couple of kids here or there.”

Kennedy credits his close relationship with former housemates Sam Walsh and ex-Blue Paddy Dow - as well as his close work with Club Psychologist Tarah Kavanagh - as central reasons behind his ability to be himself.

Now he’s flourishing, both on and off the field, as he prepares to play for the first time on one of the holiest days on the Catholic calendar (he missed Carlton’s first Good Friday SuperClash in 2023 through injury).

“I was struggling quite a lot at that time. [Kavanagh] was able to separate that from Matt Kennedy the football player to Matt Kennedy the person.

“What will be in football will be, but the most important thing for me in my life right now is my faith, my relationship with God and my relationship with my family.”


St Roch’s Catholic Church in Glen Iris is now a central point for Kennedy away from football, looking to have a greater impact and purpose away from the kicks, marks and handballs.

Fortunately, if he ever does want to talk footy, he’ll have someone who’s more than willing to engage in the conversation: Father Michael Gallagher has been a Carlton member for four decades.

Let’s just call it a happy coincidence.

“They do forget he’s an AFL footballer: he’s so down to earth, authentic and generous with his time,” Fr Gallagher said.

As for preparing for Good Friday football, Kennedy admitted it’s a game day which may look different to his other 96 games so far.

“I’ll try and fast . . . try and avoid meat on Good Friday. Trying to give up the little things, whether it be my phone, social media or television.”