The development path of a key position tall is often a long and winding one. For a young forward especially, you’re often at the mercy of things out of your control: ball movement, execution of the kick coming in and the relative physical maturity of your opponent.
In these cases the player, coaches, Club and fans require patience and an ability to see the forest through the trees. A mark here, some body work there, an example of intelligent movement and positioning; individual pieces of the puzzle that will one day come together to reveal the bigger picture.
Chris Jones has featured in eleven of the Hawks’ fourteen matches in 2017, been named a state representative and kicked twenty-one goals on the season, which places him second amongst his teammates in the race to be leading goal-kicker.
Following a string of standout performances that bigger picture is well and truly in focus and Jones can’t help but be justifiably satisfied.
Simply, now in his third year as a Hawk, all the hard work and lessons learnt are paying off for both Jones and the people who’ve backed him in.
“I feel like I’m hitting some form coming into the right time of the year.” He says.
“I definitely feel like I’ve earned my spot and I’m a vital part of the team up forward now.”
After joining the Club from the Eastern Ranges at the end of 2014 the athletic tall made three senior appearances in his first season on the Box Hill list, adding a further twelve to his tally last year. This was in amongst a number of appearances for the Hawks’ all-conquering development side, which has long been a proving ground for so many in brown and gold.
“That (development league experience) was a good stepping stone.
“It’s been a gradual build towards senior footy, but one I hope to keep building on.”
Like I said, patience. After all, the foundations are the first – and most important – part of any project.
He credits his development to a growing confidence in his ability to compete both physically and mentally, reserving special praise for a much-respected member of the Box Hill family.
“Sean Murphy (Head Fitness Coach), who I worked with at Eastern, has done a lot of work on my body to get my frame into a position where I can go up against senior footballers.
“He’s absolutely one of the main reasons I can compete out there. All the work we’ve done over the last four years, getting the pre-seasons under my belt, has helped tremendously and made me the footballer I am.”
Whilst the physical attributes – his leap, frame, endurance and agility – required time to mature, unlocking them was a matter of self-confidence, something he’s found with the support of his coaches.
“I play my best footy when I can run and jump at the ball and confidently fly at the packs.
“Sometimes you come into senior footy and might be a little scared to fly against a Ty Vickery or Ryan Schoenmakers.
“You hesitate and question whether it’s your ball to go for, whether you have the right to jump into a pack where the AFL boys are.”
“I’ve worked a lot with ‘Maxy’ (assistant coach Max Bailey) and ‘Newy’ (senior coach Chris Newman), which has given me such great confidence to fly at any contest, which is something I’ve lacked in the past.
“‘Newy’ has been great for me, saying ‘no, you’re just as good, fly at the ball.’ If it’s your ball it’s your ball.”
Since the round twelve loss to Williamstown Box Hill’s number twelve has been a crucial cog in a forward line that is firing on all cylinders.
In between providing a contest for the likes of Nelson Lane, Vincent Adduci and Sam Switkowski to crumb, he has contributed eight goals during a period in which the side has averaged eighteen majors and ten different goal kickers a game, with wins against North Ballarat, Werribee and Sandringham putting the Hawks in the box seat for the double chance and all-important home final.
When asked to explain the how and why of the team’s great run of form Jones was unequivocal in his praise for the senior coach and the sense of unity, purpose and cohesion he has imbued in a club keen to atone for a disappointing 2016.
“‘Newy’ has created a culture where you have to enjoy what you do; and it’s everyone playing their role.
“Obviously we work and train hard, but it’s got to be fun, too, and ‘Newy’ has been big on that. you’ve got to enjoy it or otherwise you’re not going to play your best footy.”
It could be considered a case of chicken and egg, but winning certainly helps the enjoyment of the game and vice versa. As for unity, it can be one of football’s great intangibles.
For Jones, the attitude at Box Hill City Oval ought to be bottled and preserved.
“The connection between the Hawthorn and Box Hill boys is the best it’s ever been this year.
“Sometimes it can be tough to get great unity between the two squads, with separate clubs and training times and the like.
“But there are a lot of great friendships between the two groups now, which really helps us to play our best footy because we’re all legitimately playing and working towards the one goal, which is to win a flag.
But don’t think anyone is getting ahead of themselves on that front.
“As exciting a time as it is for the club, we’re keeping a lid on it.
“No one is getting distracted, no one is talking about it. As boring as it is, we’re taking it one week at a time.”
So whats on the agenda this week for Jones?
“I’ve got the yips lately, I kicked 3.4 on the weekend, so if I get that right we’ll be right!”
Like so many of his teammates Chris’ contributions are cause for great individual and collective enthusiasm.
Football is a game won by happy, united and cohesive sides. The boys have sung the song enough this year we should all be familiar with the opening line. Perhaps that – and the continued good form of Jones – is the key to the Hawks’ premiership aspirations.