Young Sydney defender Zak Jones has paid tribute to the influence of skipper Jarrad McVeigh as he seeks a dream ending to a breakout AFL campaign which threatened to finish on a sour note.
Jones played 14 of Sydney’s first 16 games before ankle and concussion issues kept him out of the side for eight matches.
He got a recall for last Friday’s preliminary final against Geelong, after a calf injury ruled out McVeigh.
Jones needed a strong performance to have any hope of retaining his place for Saturday’s grand final against Western Bulldogs and produced the goods with one of his best games in Swans colours.
The 21-year-old half-back collected a career-high 17 kicks and stood out in the third quarter, when Geelong threw everything at Sydney.
Although McVeigh is considered a good chance of playing this week, Jones isn’t expected to be the player to make way..
Jones himself wasn’t sure he had done enough to keep his place, but the fact he was made available to the media this week was a strong sign he will be selected.
A grand final appearance after just 30 games would be a career high for Jones, especially after the health issues of recent weeks threatened to undermine his good work earlier in the campaign.
“It’s been real tough, I’ve had a few ups and downs,” Jones told AAP.
No sooner had he recovered from his ankle problem than he was concussed in his comeback game for the Swans reserves in the NEAFL grand final less than three weeks ago.
“It was pretty crazy. I just wanted to get rid of the headaches and try to train as quick as I could ,” Jones said.
“By the end of the week I felt good. The first few days, you’re a little bit out of it and a little bit dazed.”
McVeigh, who has also spent some time on the half-back line this season, was singled out by Jones as a major reason for him taking his game to the next level.
“Macca has been a massive help for me guiding me in the right spot,” Jones said.
Jones is poised to play in a grand final before his older brother Nathan, a leader at the Melbourne Demons, who has been an AFL player for eight more seasons than his younger sibling.
“He said just try treating it as another game, he played a few finals when he was younger,” Jones said.
“I’ve tried just keeping calm for this weekend and keeping the energy until this weekend.”