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Melbourne Football Club

Q&A with Nathan Jones

Nathan Jones
LEADER Nathan Jones speaks to editor Matt Burgan in the lead-up to his 100th AFL match

You’re 23 years old and about to play your 100th match. Can you believe that?

It’s a bit of a milestone, but it’s irrelevant - it’s another game. I just want to play in a win - that’s more important to me. It’s good to reflect on it. I did a little bit of that with my family and it’s good to do with them, but individually, I just want to keep it as it is. I just want a win this weekend - that’d make it a bit better anyway.

Let’s just go back to 2005. You shone for Dandenong Stingrays in a losing TAC Cup grand final, winning 36 disposals and were then selected at No.12 in the NAB AFL Draft. What was that time like?

NJ: The grand final was a whirlwind. We didn’t win, but the experience was awesome. My old man used to say: ‘you’ve got to stand up in big games and when it counts’. I was happy that I played well although I was disappointed we lost. It was really fun playing with mates I still catch up with today. The Draft Camp was the next week and I was very sick. I missed out on doing the beep test, which was my forte at the time. From there, I didn’t really worry about it too much. I was more worried about how I would be if I was drafted interstate. I got invited to the Draft and it was all done and dusted so quickly. It happened on the Saturday and then on the Monday I was at training. And then the whole journey began.

And then since your debut in round 17, 2006 you’ve missed just four matches. What do you attribute that to? 

NJ: Durability is the key and luck comes into it. Other than breaking my back in the final round last year against North Melbourne, luckily I haven’t had any major injuries - touch wood. My development and learning over that time has helped shaped me into the player that I am today, which has been good. I’ve had a lot of experience for how old I am - something I cherish and wouldn’t want to give back. I just want to be a part of the success that lies ahead.

In just your seventh AFL match, you played in a final - the second elimination final against St Kilda. What are your memories of that experience and your first season?

NJ: I was lucky. It was hard for me to break into the side that year, because we were going so well. I had to work on a few things to get in. But we haven’t had a lot of success since then - I’ve played in a few wooden spoon teams and close to the bottom, so it hasn’t been bright. But my number one memory of that win over St Kilda - even though it wasn’t my best game - was the whole feeling. The national anthem played, the crowd was huge and the build-up was nothing like I’d experienced before. It was hard to take in, because I was so new to the whole thing. But it’s been on a bit of a roller-coaster and downward slide since the loss against Freo the following week after St Kilda in 2006. Those two weeks, I experienced the highs and lows and then a couple of weeks later I was lucky enough to be able to play in the VFL grand final for Sandringham under Wilbur (Mark Williams). The rebuild of how the game’s changed, how my game’s changed and how the club’s changed since then has been huge - I’ve had three senior coaches and three different midfield coaches. So it’s been a bumpy ride, but I’ve enjoyed it.

In five completed seasons, you’ve gained two top five placings in the best and fairest and been named in the leadership group - how do you assess what you’ve achieved in this period?

NJ: In the first couple of seasons, I got two Rising Star nominations, but then the whole reality of the AFL world hit me and then I had to go back and relearn different things. I had to add versatility to my game. I think now, as I’ve come into this year, I feel a lot more confident after two or three years of playing different roles and being educated in other areas.

Your recent form has been strong. For example, in your past three matches, you’ve averaged 26 disposals. Do you think you’re in career-best form?

NJ: Individually, I put a lot of work into it, but it’s irrelevant to how the team’s going. It’s all well and good to be playing well individually, but it’s a team sport, so I’m more focused on where the team can get better each week. I’m developing my leadership to try and pull other guys along. I try and lead by example - that’s my number one focus, giving my all on game day. I’m lucky enough to be in some good form, but that’s on the back of some hard work. I’m trying to help guys get better and work with Westy (Scott West) and Beamer (Brent Moloney), the more senior guys in the midfield group. With Rush (Mark Jamar) going down with injury, we’ve been trying to take on that role and how we perform on the weekend is important.

As part of the leadership group this year, how have you found it and what are your leadership aspirations?  

NJ: Whatever happens, will happen. I’ve enjoyed the role so far, but it’s been a bit of a roller-coaster. We’ve come under some scrutiny and the leaders have been under pressure to perform. I don’t have any set goals, but I just want to continue to improve. I take a keen interest in how the coaches want the game to be played, with structures and set-ups. I’ve tried to learn as much as I can in that area and pass that onto the players. Directing and acting on things on the ground is when it works best. So that’s the area I’m focusing on at the minute. I just look forward to the club getting on the right path and heading north and up that ladder. And being a part of it and playing a role for this footy club.

Away from football, you were one of the first AFL players to grasp Twitter and run with it. How have you found that experience?

NJ: I got approached by [GM marketing and communications] Jen [Watt] a couple of years ago and she said: ‘would you be interested in doing it?’ I wasn’t too keen at the time, but she explained it to me and then it went from there. Your family is your number one support and then your football club and its supporters, so it’s important - I saw it as a good way to express my personality. At the same time, I’ve been able to give an insight. And [Essendon’s] Angus Monfries summed it up well in The Age this week, when he said: ‘it’s separating every player into their own personality, so you’re not judged as a group’. I use it as a way of expressing my personality and I enjoy it.

Surfing is also a massive passion for you.

NJ: Surfing is a huge part of my life. Growing up on the coast, I’m just so glad I can still do it now. It’s super important to my preparation now. It’s mentality refreshing for me. I cop a heap of flak from the boys about surfing, but unless you do it, you don’t know what it’s like. There are a couple of boys who surf at the club and understand. But going away for that one day a week is like going on a holiday for me, when I get down to the coast. I switch off and it’s time that I really cherish.

And finally, if you could be surfing great Kelly Slater or play in a premiership for Melbourne - what would you rather?

NJ: (Laughing) It’s a tough one! My love is with footy, because I don’t have the talent to be a professional surfer. Although they live a great life and I love watching it, my love is footy, which was bred into me as a young fella. I’m really driven to get the best out of myself. I look up to the really good players in the competition and I admire how they go about it - they’re really good leaders. I really aspire to be like them and as the club moves forward, I want to be part of a successful side at this footy club, because they gave me the opportunity to play. It’d be great to be part of that first premiership since 1964.