Load lifted: Jones scents new beginning

“That lightened the load a bit,” he said. “What I was able to do was go away and train and find the fire in the belly again. I felt revitalised and lighter through the summer because of some of the decisions I made. I feel fresh and excited. I’m still as excited as I was back in January and February just before the season started.”

As if anyone needs to be reminded, it was a false start. Since, all have been crouched in the blocks, waiting. For Jones, that has meant training alone, or by forming a pair with any of four teammates who lived near his bayside home, or with brother Zak, who has returned from Sydney to Melbourne to play for St Kilda.

Jones said fitness won’t be an issue when the season resumes. “A lot of the guys I’ve spoken to have gone above and beyond, just because of the amount of time they have on their hands,” he said.

“What we’ve been told is to really focus on our intensity and high-end speed, trying to replicate as much as possible what you’d be doing in a group session while preparing for a game.

“For me, it’s provided great motivation. It’s given me time to reflect. After 15 years of being told where to be, what to do, how to train, to be able to run my routine and almost stop and smell the roses has been great.”

Nathan Jones in action during pre-season. Credit:AAP

Not least of that bunch of roses is his family: wife Jerri, pre-schooler son Remy, and daughter Bobbi, who has just started prep. Jones says home learning has been an education, but he is relishing it.

“But I don’t want to run around doing a pre-season forever,” he said. “You play a team sport to be among other people and to play as a group with your mates. That’s what I miss most.”

Jones is the last remaining Melbourne player to have played under Neale Daniher. He admits that it feels like several eras ago. He is still in occasional touch with Daniher and relates closely to his cause because his own grandfather died of motor neurone disease. “To me, [talking to him] is like a breath of fresh air,” he said.

In football terms Jones is now at the grandfather stage, though with a youthful spring in his step. He is within 14 games of becoming only the second Melbourne player to play 300 games, and six more of David Neitz’s club record. He cannot help know it, and corrects The Age about a slight miscalculation.

“I’d love to get there,” he said. “But I haven’t really capped it. I’ll play ’til I’m not playing to the level I’m satisfied with.

“Providing you’ve still got the mental capacity to want to continue and push yourself to the limit, and you’re in top physical shape, I don’t see there being any limitation on how long you play for, until your form doesn’t stack up. Right now, I’m as excited and motivated as ever.”

Jones draws inspiration from other 30-something athletes: Hawthorn’s 37-year-old Shaun Burgoyne, for instance, and in the NFL, the legendary Tom Brady, who is 42 but not done yet. Next to them, Jones is a babe-in-arms.

“A lot of them have similar sorts of messages: look after your body, quality over quantity,” he said. “A lot of it comes down to where their heads are at. I still love the game of footy,and I still want to be a part of it, and push myself, and see how far I can go.”

He is contracted only until the end of the year. Now he has to squeeze a year into half a year. It means greater intensity, but more stimulation, too.

The flare-up of an Achilles strain forced him to miss Melbourne’s round one trip to play and lose to West Coast, but that all seems to belong to another season now. This year can still bring good things to the Demons.

“The team hasn’t really changed,” Jones said. “Deep down, we all know what we’re capable of. I guess it’s harnessing that. I’m confident we can. But we’ve got to get some momentum up, get some runs on the board.”

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