Nathan Jones has faced some significant challenges during Melbourne’s lean years but has never had to look far for inspiration.
He only has to remember the influence his greatest fan and grandfather, George Jones, had on his football to get up and represent the red and blue each week.
Featured during Channel Seven’s football coverage, Jones said his grandfather was always there to support him.
“He was probably my number one fan. I couldn’t have had a person who was more biased towards anything I did, so when I got drafted to Melbourne it was one of his proudest moments. From then on, he’d drive up in his convertible from the peninsular and be at training sessions, always critiquing how I was going,” Jones said.
“We had a really strong relationship. If I was thinking negatively or self-doubting, he’d be able to get me back up or tell me where I needed to get better for next week.”
The week that’s passed has been a big one for the AFL and for the Melbourne Football Club as much-loved former coach Neale Daniher raised awareness and money for research into the debilitating disease he’s suffering from – Motor Neurone Disease.
The initiative peaked with a successful public appeal in the lead up to Monday’s Queen’s Birthday clash with ‘The Big Freeze at the ‘G’. While Jones has seen his former coach’s battle with the illness played out publicly, his family’s own private battle with the disease hasn’t been well-known.
Jones’s grandfather was diagnosed and eventually passed away from the disease Daniher refers to as “the beast”.
“Initially it was sort of like he had a stroke, and it spiralled downhill. Obviously with his age, being over 80, it happened probably quicker than someone who’s fitter or stronger – but it’s one of the worst things I’ve seen,” Jones said.
“Doctors tell you, in his mind, he’s completely right but as it wears on, your body completely shuts down, which is hard to fathom. It’s bloody hard to watch.”
But after seeing Daniher open up about the disease recently, Jones is encouraged by the way his first AFL coach is fighting and trying to make a difference for future sufferers.
“You could just see him try and say what he wanted to say in his eyes and how much it meant to him” – Nathan Jones
“I guess seeing Neale brought back a lot of memories for me. I just love his bravery and courage, really; it’s what sets him apart.
“He had the opportunity to wallow in self-pity, get angry and blame people but instead at some stage he said he had to get up and fight. The awareness he’s raising at the moment is doing that and he’s right at the front, fighting away and obviously looking for a cure. That’s the inspiration for us.”
In the lead up to his grandfather’s departure, Jones needed to show how much he respected and loved George with a gesture that was more than just words.
And what better way to tribute someone special than getting something permanent on your skin, even if the person who it’s attributed to isn’t a huge fan of tattoos.
“At the time I didn’t have anywhere near as many tattoos but it was just more as a tribute, just knowing at some stage in the pretty near future I was going to lose him and seeing as we couldn’t communicate verbally I wanted to show him how much he actually meant to me.
“The day I showed him, he couldn’t speak at all and probably the last memory I have of a real key moment. You could just see him try and say what he wanted to say in his eyes and how much it meant to him. It was a pretty surreal moment for me.
“I don’t know if he’d accept the amount of tattoos I’ve got now but he certainly accepted that one.”