A DEBUT three years in the making.
For Courtney Jones, finally being able to live her AFLW dream was simply “unbelievable”.
“The night after Harf [Daniel Harford] told me, I didn't sleep very well. I was just so wide awake and excited – running out onto the field was just a completely different experience,” Jones said.
While there have been ups and downs through Jones’ Navy Blue journey, the speedy forward never lost sight of her overall goal – even at times when by her own admission, she knew she wasn’t quite where she needed to be.
“Coming into Carlton I knew I had a lot of work to do on my fitness and it was hard – the first Christmas session before I came into the club after my first year, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep up," she said.
“I made sure I was communicating with everyone I needed to communicate with just to make sure I was going to get better and improve and I think last year I saw incremental improvements but it still wasn’t enough and I knew that."
An off-season trip North paid dividends.
Jones spent a season with her former side the Cairns Saint and returned to IKON Park with not only a premiership, but a new-found confidence and sense of self.
“I headed up to Cairns to just work on myself individually, I think from an off-field perspective as well, I found that I probably wasn’t enjoying my time in Melbourne and I needed a break from that, just some fresh air,” she said.
While Jones knew she’d made significant improvement – evidenced in her personal best pre-season testing – the mid-week phone call still came as a surprise.
“I thought the phone call was going to be, ‘unfortunately, we've got you as an emergency’, or maybe not in at all," she said.
“I just wasn't expecting it. I was just so shocked.
“I remember my housemate, Nicole, she crept upstairs after the phone call finished. We were just jumping around in the kitchen. I was so happy and I drove straight to my Dad's and called my best friend as well straight away just to let them know. I think they were just as shocked as I was, to be honest."
It had been a lengthy wait for Jones to hit the AFLW stage but in spite of her nerves, she slotted into the Game Changers’ line-up seamlessly.
“I think I started off pretty slow and then after half-time, I really picked it up," she said.
Her promising performance was capped by a kick that granted her membership in the exclusive first-game, first-goal club.
“The crowd started cheering, and Nic [Stevens] was the first person to come over and give me a high-five and then everyone else tumbled onto me as well.
“It was an unbelievable feeling. It's unmatched.”
Having now ticked off her long-awaited debut, Jones’ hunger to continue to improve is only heightened.
“I really want to be a consistent player, not someone who jumps in and out of the team. I really want to focus on solidifying myself into this group,” she said.
Ultimately, the sky is the limit.
“I think I can help this team achieve greatness really, we’re a really great group and I'm really excited to see where this year goes.”