Jones understands Tiger grief

Nathan Jones with the late Jim Stynes in 2009. Photo: Vince CaliguiriTwo years after having to play in the aftermath of a club legend’s death, Melbourne’s Nathan Jones has given an insight into how Richmond players are likely to be preparing for their first match since the passing of Tom Hafey.

Jones was one of the Demons’ most prominent on-field leaders when Jim Stynes died in March, 2012. While he and his teammates had 11 days before their next match, double what their Tigers counterparts will have before Saturday’s match against the Demons at the MCG, the co-captain said it was undoubtedly influential.

”With Jimmy passing away, it was a pretty emotional week for the footy club. The tough task is to try and balance that [with football requirements] and not let it absorb too much of the playing group, so they can still perform on the weekend,” Jones said on Thursday. ”That’s one of the hardest things to do. It’s an individual thing – how the death of someone affects the individual is almost out of the control of the footy club.”

Jones said he expected the match to be ”driven highly with emotion”.

”Richmond will deal with it however they see fit this week. Going on my past experiences, I’m sure they’ll be trying not to get too emotionally connected,” he said. ”I know for sure they’ll be coming out and trying to honour him with the way they play this weekend.”

In Melbourne’s case it was thumped at home by an unfancied Brisbane Lions by 41 points, in what was also the first match for then coach Mark Neeld.

While Hafey’s closest affinity was to Richmond, the Melbourne co-captain said appreciation for the late 82-year-old spread well beyond Tigerland. ”It’s a sad time for the Richmond footy club, obviously, with them losing Tommy. I think it’s [a] great opportunity … to reflect [on] not only his service to the Richmond footy club but his status and standing in terms of the entire competition,” he said. ”It will be a great opportunity this weekend to honour him. Obviously, Richmond are paying a pretty significant tribute.”

Melbourne and Richmond were rebuilding at a similar pace until the end of 2012, when the Tigers’ steady improvement coincided with the Demons’ regression. Since the Tigers narrowly beat the Demons at the end of 2011, by seven points, they have comfortably accounted for their MCG co-tenant, by an average margin of six goals.

But with Melbourne level with Richmond this year on two wins, albeit with a more favourable draw and an additional match, Jones said Saturday was a chance to reduce the gap between the two clubs.

”We’re well aware that they’re probably not on top of their game, but they’ve got some really key players … and their forward set-up [is dangerous] and they’re pretty strong through the midfield as well, and have got some really good ball-users off half-back,” he said. ”We’re going to have to come with … that real competitive edge and tackling mentality that we’ve tried to bring in the first six or eight rounds.”

Meanwhile, Jones said a move to defence could be the key to teammate Sam Blease breaking into the Demons’ line-up.

The Demons took Blease with a priority pick in the 2008 draft, one ahead of West Coast’s Luke Shuey. He initially struggled badly with injury and has since managed only 31 matches, despite possessing great pace.

In 2012 the forward flanker began to improve, most notably with a 29-disposal performance against Sydney and a 20-disposal, five-goal haul against St Kilda. But he only twice reached double figures for disposals in his 10 matches last year.

While Blease, who is yet to play a senior match this season, has been criticised for a lack of aerobic endurance, Jones argued it was consistency that was the main priority – and that the 23-year-old was starting to deliver on that.

”They changed his role up last weekend; he played a little bit more off half-back,” Jones said of Blease’s best-on-ground performance in the VFL for Casey. ”He’s played two or three good weeks in a row. The philosophy the coaches have through here is if you’re back in the VFL they want to see consistent form. He’s starting to string that together. When he does, it’s going to put him in the best position to come forward and play in the AFL side at his best.

”He’s not too far away. He’s in pretty good form and I’m expecting him to play well again this weekend and continue to put his hand up. I’m sure he’ll keep banging the door down until he gets his chance.”

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