“IT WAS pretty much done.”
Liam Jones thought his AFL dream would be over after 80 games. Most in the football world did.
Yet this Sunday, the remarkable journey of the forward-turned-defender will result in another landmark when the Blue runs out for his 150th AFL game.
Of course, it just so happens to be against the Western Bulldogs: the team where he made his start before crossing to IKON Park prior to the 2015 season.
Few could have expected Jones’ journey to pan out the way it has, or the fact that it is still in fact adding chapters in May of 2021.
This was a man whose AFL dream was done. The book had been closed. The line had been drawn.
Yet, here we are.
“I thought I was done, probably about 75 games ago,” Jones said in an extensive sit-down interview with Carlton Media.
“It’s something I’m really proud of and my family is really proud of. I know Nan will be grinning from ear-to-ear over in Hobart and I got a message from Dad yesterday saying how proud he was.
“I think a lot of people close to me have known what I’ve gone through and the rollercoaster that it has been to get to these 150 games. I’m just so grateful to still be playing football: it’s the best job in the world in my opinion.”
For so many who have followed Jones’ career, 2017 feels like an eternity ago.
At the start of that year, Jones was entering the final season of a three-year contract when he crossed from Whitten Oval.
After 17 games and 16 goals across two seasons, the then 26-year-old who had burst onto the scene as a young, high-flying forward in red, white and blue was - by his own admission - preparing for his final season in the Navy Blue.
He made a move down back in the VFL, to make room - again, by his own admission - to make room for the likes of Charlie Curnow, Harry McKay and Jack Silvagni who had just entered the door 12 months earlier.
As fate would have it, it was the move which saved his career. But it was a shift in mindset which was the key stepping stone early in the piece.
“It was in the third and final year of my contract here where things started to develop. It really started from the belief that Josh Fraser showed in me and the belief I had in myself,” he said.
“Over the pre-season leading into 2017, I was just so free and relaxed and enjoying what I was doing. Some people might think it was a bit weird because we’re here to play AFL football.
“But I had seen guys who had gone through these terrible injuries and were sitting on the sidelines, and I was running around a training and receiving kicks from Kade Simpson. It was amazing.
“I actually loved it, I released all the pressure from myself. My goal for that year was ‘it’s my last year, I’m going to finish with a VFL premiership and I’m going to do my best to lead this team’.”
Crediting the influence of Josh Fraser at the Northern Blues as well as the input of Dale Amos in recent seasons, Jones was arguably best on ground at VFL level in five consecutive games in this new role.
For a man seemingly resigned to the VFL for the rest of his football life, a game against Sandringham at Preston City Oval was his last in the competition. To this day, despite his recent exploits at AFL level, he still labels that as his best ever.
With his football career seemingly a fait accompli, why didn’t Jones just rest on his laurels and let the time pass?
He’s asked the question a number of times to himself in the five years since, and he goes back to his young self wreaking havoc with a toy football in his house from a young age.
“I think it was something I was meant to do,” Jones said with a shrug of the shoulders.
“I’ve got this photo of me holding a football while riding a bike. I slept with a footy. I was kicking a little fluffy one up and down the hallway all the time and breaking things around the house.
“I just loved it, and I still love it. It’s the best game in the world and I just feel fortunate that I’ve been able to do it as a career.”
For all Jones has put into his game, he feels as though the game has given all that and more back to him.
While last year marked 10 years since his first AFL game, Jones still feels young. At 30 years of age and in the Club’s leadership group over the last two seasons, he is learning every day.
His gratitude and love for the game and what he does shone through whenever speaking about his improbable journey to this point.
“The game has given me so much. I still feel like I’m in my low 20s, but when I look back at my journey I’ve grown up so much,” he said.
“It has educated me, it has moulded me into a man. It’s taught me that hard work pays off and I owe a lot to footy. I’ll continue to give it my absolute all.
“I’ve been through a lot off the field and on the field, and the connections and the family environment that a football club has shown me and helped support me has set me up in life.”
That family environment was exemplified for Jones in his most difficult moment, when his mum passed away in 2019.
For someone who was so easily cast aside by so many into the football wilderness, Jones’ comment that he “always wanted to belong somewhere” is striking.
It’s evident that Jones’ second home has become IKON Park, and that day was a clear indication of that.
“I just wanted to belong to something for so long,” he said.
“Without trying to get too emotional, when my mum passed away and being at her funeral, to have a dozen of my closest mates, the coach and some staff from the football club be there made me feel like I belong to something.
“I’m constantly being supported. I’ll forever be grateful for the way the Club has supported me through some of the hardest times I’ve had in my life.
“I’ll continue to give everything I’ve got while I’m here.”
For the full interview, click the Whoooshka player embedded in the article. Stay tuned to Carlton Media for more video snippets throughout the week.