Swans’ debutant keen to make his name

Sydney’s next debutant Zak Jones wants to be known as a footballer first and the brother of the Melbourne captain second.

Jones will begin the walk out of the shadow of Demons skipper Nathan Jones on Friday night after being named in the Swans side to play Richmond.

The 19-year-old will be a teenager among men but having spent a lot of his childhood chasing the Sherrin in the backyard with two older brothers, Josh and Nathan, he should be well prepared for what lies ahead.

Nathan has won two consecutive club champion awards at Melbourne, and Josh, though not having reached the elite level, was no slouch either having played for the Dandenong Stingrays team in the AFL’s feeder competition, the TAC Cup.

“I got into footy when my older brothers got into it,” Jones, who has replaced injured All Australian midfielder Dan Hannebery, said on Thursday.

“I was just following in their footsteps, trying to play with them, mucking around in the backyard – always getting hurt and crying.

“Josh was the meanest out of all of us, he’s the one that picks on me the most. He’s the tough one out of all of us.”

The young Swan is no shrinking violet either – those types tend to struggle to crack a game at Sydney, let along break through in their first year.

At 181cm and 75kg, Jones does not appear to fit into the category of physically imposing but there is much more than meets the eye.

Graeme Yeats, Jones’s coach at the Stingrays, remembers him as a “fierce competitor with enormous determination”.

“And you can’t teach that in someone, it’s ingrained in you, you play that way from when you’re eight to 10,” Yeats said.

Yeats remembers there were times at Stingrays training when they were worried, particularly during tackling drills, what damage Jones would inflict on his teammates and coaches such was his ferocity.

“There were times we had to almost send him off the track because he was going to hurt someone,” Yeats said.

“We had to pull him a little bit. He’ll fit in [at Sydney] because he’s hard as nails.”

As recently as last year, Yeats had doubts whether Jones would make it but the player made great strides, graduating from defence to the midfield for the Stingrays and then to be named Vic Country’s most valuable player in last year’s national championships.

The Swans liked Jones so much they selected him with their first pick, No.15 overall, in last year’s draft after watching recruiter Kinnear Beatson’s footage of him.

And he made a strong first impression on Swans coach John Longmire, who regards his competitiveness and poise under pressure as his strengths.

“We’ve talked to him about making sure what to do and when to do it and what we really value, which is controlled aggression at the ball,” Longmire said.

“He understands that and it’s not just about knocking blokes over, but keeping your eye on the ball at all times. He’s certainly competitive in that aspect and enjoys the physical side of footy.”

So too does Jones’s brother, Nathan, but despite his sibling’s achievements he wants to be remembered for his own deeds.

“I don’t want it as an insult for my brother, he’s a great footballer, but I still want my own reputation,” Jones said.

“I don’t want to be known as Nathan Jones’s brother and the younger brother. I want to be known for my own name.

“I want to be Zak Jones, he’s a footballer, and Nathan Jones is his brother.”

Despite his on-field bravado, Jones openly admits he has been racked with butterflies since being told of his imminent debut on Wednesday.

“I’m pretty nervous to actually step onto a football field with such a great club,” Jones said.

“It’s a dream I’ve always wanted and thought about, now that it’s coming and it’s reality it’s pretty scary for me.”

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