Dark Dee days like ‘hell on Earth’: Jones
NATHAN Jones did not want to die wondering.
"Countless" mates had come and gone from Melbourne, a club that had become football's "hell on earth".
Those mates, who had been traded or moved elsewhere, kept ringing and texting Jones and the message was always the same: Get out.
The star midfielder admits that their nudging did spark a consideration to leave the Demons amid seasons of two, three and four wins.
"That built some temptation to leave, because you don't know what you don't know, but where I was then was like hell on earth in terms of footy," Jones said.
"We don't win, we get smashed and booed and I was thinking, 'Why am I putting myself through this kind of thing?'.
"But then, really, if I left, would it be inside me that I would feel fulfilled?"
He considered it a handful of times, and discussed it with wife, Jerri, "a million times".
But the desire for success paled in comparison with Jones' burning passion for the Demons and his determination to be part of change.
"It was more like, 'What do I want out of it?'," he explained.
"There was times where I absolutely hated playing … coming here (to the club), knowing you were just going to get smacked all the time.
"But I think in the end it was more just the drive to change things.
"Some people would have seen it as impossible at one point. Even I did.
"(I'd think) 'How are we ever going to get out of this?' And when I thought we were getting out of it, we quickly went straight back into it."
After six AFL games in 2006, Jones played two finals.
Over the next 11 years, his personal win-loss record was 64-165, with a couple of draws thrown in.
On Friday night, 12 years after that finals debut, he will lead Melbourne against the Hawks with a determination to ensure the club does not suffer the same semi-final fate it copped a dozen years ago against Fremantle.
Since that time, Jones has grown from bald-headed young gun to bearded and battle-hardened, becoming a husband and dad to Bobbi and Remy along the way.
A lot has changed, but one thing has stayed the same.
Jones was adamant no player would suffer what he did. He wanted to "change the narrative".
"If I was able to be part of something here, having been through everything we've been through with the fans, supporters, countless amount of mates that have been and gone, if I could see that out, that's something that I would be far more proud of than just seeking something out for myself," he said.
"It was a challenge that I'd never faced before. I wouldn't want to die wondering, without having had a crack at it.
"If I was to have left when it was the worst times and then seen the club succeed, it would have torn my heart out.
"Or could I be here and lead it and drive it, change it. That would bring me more joy than any individual success or reward.
"I never wanted players to get drafted to this footy club - because of the history and the connection that I have with it - to have to go through the position that I found myself in again at this club … that long after I'm gone, players want to play for the Melbourne footy club and that the club is great again."
The hook of loyalty, he said, was often an emotional one.
But it was one that had been instilled in him - via his parents Brad and Liz - long before he was taken with pick 12 in the 2005 draft.
"When stuff got hard when I was a young kid, it was like, 'you don't give up'," the 30-year-old says.
"I almost saw the position I was in not too dissimilar to a challenge I would have faced as a kid. You don't walk away from it just because it gets hard.
"As big and all-consuming as the problem here was, it reminded me a lot of being a kid and dad and mum telling me that when it gets tough, you don't give up.
"You keep persisting and trying and try again and give your best all the time."
Jones had built up a vision of what Friday night's elimination final win over Geelong would be like.
A bit from his memories of 2006, and the rest built up by his imagination.
He got a taste, he says, and wants more.
"Part of the thing that drove me was to actually see the ground and the team and the club like that," he said.
"The supporters, former players, former coaches, people that it's meant so much to over such a long period of time - the whole picture.
"I always thought that the team - at some point - would be able to get to that point. How long that would take, I never really knew.
"I also knew that once we did start playing a brand of footy that they loved and got in behind, that they would see the scenes that we saw on Friday night.
"That is one thing that has really driven me through some of the dark periods.
"I still feel like I have got heaps of footy left and I just want it more. It just makes you hungrier."