IF IT wasn’t for a spray Jamaine Jones received as a 16-year-old, he could well be lining up for Portland this weekend in the Hampden Football League.
The club’s Hanlon Reserve in Victoria’s south-west, just one stop in his whirlwind journey to Geelong, is a long way from GMHBA Stadium.
But the 281km separation seems only minor in the scheme of a life that has taken the Cats rookie to all corners of the state before an AFL debut against Carlton on Saturday night.
The livewire small forward spent his formative years in a group home in Mildura, waiting for someone to take him in after he was born in Broken Hill.
Lonely seeing kids come and go, Jones’ life changed as a 10-year-old when Geelong mother Sue Lovett adopted him into a family home with four kids of her own.
“From being in foster care, not knowing where I’ll be and for Sue Lovett adopting me, that’s hope,” Jones said on Thursday.
“I thank her for giving me a second chance, she got me here today, without her I wouldn’t be here.
“I hope there’s people out there that are looking to adopt and if you’re going to do it, I’d say do it because you can make a change to someone’s life.”
After several years in the region he now calls home, including an under-14 premiership with Belmont Lions, Jones was diagnosed with ADHD as the family moved to Heywood (near Portland).
Debuting as a 15-year-old for the local senior side, he won a premiership at 16 before catching the attention of North Ballarat TAC Cup talent scouts.
It was there that a shake-up from regional manager Phil Partington sharpened his focus to take his football to the next level.
“I didn’t make it (Rebels) in my first year because I didn’t take it too serious and I actually got a spraying from Phil Partington,” Jones said.
“He said ‘Why are you mucking around, you’ve got the x-factor’.
“I was shattered, but it made me stronger for the second year.
“I made it in under 18’s and that’s when it all came together for me and thought I can go somewhere with my football here.”
Jones knocked back the opportunity to move to Ballarat for boarding school, insisting it wasn’t for him.
Moving to Portland in the stronger Hampden competition at the same time as his Rebels commitments increased in 2016, one senior game was enough to earn a place in the interleague squad.
On the fringe of selection, coach Chris McLaren rolled the dice to select him alongside Brisbane midfielder Cedric Cox, the pair lining up with players almost double their age.
Jones turned heads with three goals to be named Hampden’s best player, quickly shifting Geelong recruiter Stephen Wells’ attention away from Cox watching live at the ground.
Taken with Geelong’s last pick in the Rookie Draft that year – a pick Chris Scott described on Thursday as “speculative as they come” – Jones spent all of 2017 in Geelong’s VFL team.
Lining up in this year’s JLT Community Series, Jones then started the VFL year in impressive touch, forcing his way in to Scott’s side after being named as an emergency the past fortnight.
“They called me into a room (on Tuesday) and they had three or four guys in there. They had one guy who was a payroll guy so I thought I was getting a payrise,” he said with a laugh.
“They said ‘you’ll play this weekend’, I was pretty excited and didn’t know what to say at that time.
“I said thank you, I’m pretty sure I said where are the cameras, (thinking) I was getting ‘punked’ or something.
“I’ve been dreaming of this day since I was 10, saying I can’t wait to get out there and I’m going to make it. It’s not just for me, it’s for my family as well.”
Jones’ family will be in attendance on Saturday night, the occasion made even more special as Geelong wears its Indigenous jumpers celebrating Djilang round (the indigenous name for Geelong).
And if he needed any more motivation, his little brother will be in the middle playing Auskick at half time.
But his eyes won’t just be on the new No.41, likened by some at Geelong to an ‘energizer bunny’.
“His biggest fan is Tommy Hawkins and not me.”
SOURCE: Mitch Cleary – www.afl.com.au