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How much losing can Nathan Jones bear?

Nathan Jones doesn’t leave anything to chance. He is Nathan Buckley-like in his single-minded focus on extracting the maximum from himself.

Nathan Jones doesn’t leave anything to chance. He is Nathan Buckley-like in his single-minded focus on extracting the maximum from himself. Photo: Getty Images

‘‘The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.’’ - Albert Camus, from The Myth of Sisyphus.

The Melbourne Football Club is a good place to consider futile labor and the concept of pushing a boulder up a hill. No footballer in the game has laboured harder than Nathan Jones, for so little return in terms of team victories. 

Every week, Jones pushes that proverbial rock up a hill, only to see to it roll down again. If most of the 22,000 who witnessed Melbourne’s capitulation to West Coast were flattened by the experience, one can only guess how Jones, the newly minted Melbourne captain, felt.

Unlike most AFL players, Jones didn’t really have an off-season. He trained constantly during the break, preparing himself with a personal boxing coach. He also trained with his younger brother Zac, who was drafted by the Swans at pick No.15, to ensure the kid was draft-ready.

Jones doesn’t leave anything to chance. He is Nathan Buckley-like in his single-minded focus on extracting the maximum from himself; this year, Jones has the added burden of captaincy, which always represents a challenge for the player who (through no fault of his own) becomes ‘‘an island of excellence’’ - the phrase once used to describe the meticulous trio of Robert Harvey, Nathan Burke and Stewart Loewe - in a losing team with a questionable environment.

Chance has dealt Jones a tough hand, if you discount individual achievements. In 2005, he was drafted at No.12, seven places after a skinny covert from basketballer called Scott Pendlebury, who had, in fact, barracked for Melbourne. Pendlebury, by dint of ending up at Collingwood (and partly because Pendlebury himself went there), has never played for a club that didn’t play finals in each of his eight completed seasons.

Jones played two finals in his first season as a mature 18-year-old. He cannot have imagined then that, not only would his club fail to play finals again in the next seven years, but that it would spend most of those seven years mired around the bottom. He could not have envisaged that, while Pendlebury would play under two coaches, he would ply his trade under seven (counting the three caretakers).

In the judgment of some within the football fraternity, Jones is a poster boy for equalistion, and for the rights of a long-term player to have a competent, well-resourced club. He is far from the first Melbourne player to play for consistently awful teams - Robbie Flower’s career was a study in loyalty and futility - but Jones is an extreme case of success deprivation in a system designed to help the poor teams. 

There was no draft in Flower’s day (it arrived, in a limited form, as he was finishing), no salary cap. And the Demons, whose establishment connections were irrelevant in the '70s and '80s, had no hope. 

Jones, obviously, has maintained a faith that the Demons will revive, as they did under John Northey in the late '80s and early '90s, and Neale Daniher a decade later. The draft system ought to have intervened by now.

But how many more Groundhog Sundays (the movie has a touch of Sisyphus about it) can Jones, who runs himself into the turf every weekend, endure? He is contracted until the end of 2015 and, as skipper, probably has more invested in the club than James Frawley, who is weighing up his future. Yet, in the free agency era, team success is a major attraction - and the lack of it, a major turn-off. 

''The big challenge for Melbourne is to convince Nathan that he’ll play finals footy into the future,'' said Chris Connolly, the former Melbourne player and football operations chief who left the club following his year-long suspension for his part in the ‘‘tanking’’ episode. Connolly added that Paul Roos had been appointed to ''bring hope to all in the club'' and especially to the likes of Jones. 

There’s no suggestion that Jones is contemplating leaving. He has won the past two best and fairests, received a reasonable pay rise (albeit his deal falls well short of the absent Mitch Clark’s) and has been annointed co-captain.

Still, it’s fascinating to ponder Jones’ unique position in the game - as a devoted player, with extreme professionalism, at a club that, despite draft picks and a heavy rotation of senior coaches, still hasn’t improved to the point of competitiveness.

At the end of his essay, Camus concludes that Sisyphus found contentment in his fruitless toil. ‘‘The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.’’

Whether he’s happy like the Greek hero or fed up, Nathan Jones deserves more than an endless struggle uphill.

14 comments so far

  • Yes, the Melbourne Football Club is performing badly at the moment, and has for some time. I think we all know that.

    Commenter
    marcus
    Location
    brunswick
    Date and time
    April 02, 2014, 9:39AM
    • As a tiges supporter, get used to it Marcus. And the only way out of the relentless bad press is to play better.

      Commenter
      wear the fox hat
      Date and time
      April 02, 2014, 11:33AM
  • This article seems to assume 2 things
    1) Winning is success
    2) If a person works hard they deserve to win
    I know the article appears in the sports section but… really… perspective! Even in sport isn’t there something called the “love of the game” or “fulfilling potential”.
    Moving onto real life plenty of people with chronic illness/disabilities work their butts off every day just to approach what the rest of us call a normal life. Playing AFL in a bottom team, even in a team as awful as the current Melbourne team, is hardly the epitome of suffering.

    Commenter
    Brad
    Date and time
    April 02, 2014, 10:18AM
    • Nathan Jones is part of the problem. The number of occasions he absolutely butchers the football is beyond a joke. Yes he has 'a go' and tries really hard but the reality is he would not get a game in any top 8 side. He has found his level. He should be glad the MFC are so ordinary because if they weren't he would be trying really hard at Casey.

      Commenter
      Realist
      Date and time
      April 02, 2014, 12:41PM
      • Yeah, good one, I guess they should delist him.....you idiot.

        Commenter
        marcus
        Location
        brunswick
        Date and time
        April 02, 2014, 3:50PM
      • Not sure how fair that is - remember he's the result of the same poor development as every other Melbourne player... When he came to the club he was backing up Sylvia, Maloney, and McLean - only one of which turned out to be consistently good anyway and one of which never developed into the player he could have been - none of whom are there now yet all a still on lists. I'd say there is a fair chance if he wanted to leave the dees at the end of next year he will have more than enough offers to sift through.

        As for the constantly losing thing - I played on an indoor cricket team for 2 years and didn't once win. I spent a season playing volleyball and didn't win a game. A mate of mine plays netball and in two seasons has won 2 games one of which was by default because the other team forgot to show up... It is hard and obviously I would have traded it for a premiership but I didn't have the chance - jones will at the end of next season. As a demons fan my only hope is that soon whatever Paul Roos is doing will start to translate into wins so he can see maybe some light at the end of the tunnel... One thing that would be to hard to bear after the last 7 years is seeing the captain walk out...

        Commenter
        Rob
        Location
        Perth
        Date and time
        April 02, 2014, 4:34PM
      • Realist is absolutely correct. Jones may be getting lots disposals and good press lately. Watch him play and count the number of times he gets caught due to his slow pace and throws out the high loopy handball to anyone - usually the opposition that results in an opposition goal. A bit like the Frawley high loopy intercepted kick. And these are the guns.

        Commenter
        Taras Bulba
        Date and time
        April 02, 2014, 5:39PM
      • You're suggesting that he "butchers" the ball is absurd. Left or right foot he is comfortably in Melbourne's top 3 in skills. He may get caught and efficiency may not stack up in a number of respects but as a Melbourne supporter I'd rather a player take the game on and take chances to create scoring opportunities than turn it over repeatedly at the half all in the name of keeping 'control' of the ball. Evident in the loss to West Coast.

        Just a show of comments here who has managed to win an AFL club B&F? Think he'd have a laugh looking at comments like yours realist.

        Commenter
        Lloyd
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        April 03, 2014, 8:40AM
    • Realist, you are spot on. Would go as far as to say would not get a game at another club.

      Commenter
      Swans 2005
      Date and time
      April 02, 2014, 6:57PM
      • Realist and co need to get a life !!
        The article is about Nathan Jones' commitment and endeavour and current frustrations.
        I hope it pays off for him and wouldn't dream of kicking someone when they're down for my own amusement.
        You supposed experts will see that if he leaves and he won't before the end of next season, he will have many choices as he is a quality player and human being - unlike yourselves !

        Commenter
        Optimist
        Date and time
        April 02, 2014, 8:47PM

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