Reported by Paul Amy for the Caulfield Glen Eira Leader
Ben Jolley at Port Melbourne’s first training session for 2019. Pic: Sam Wharton, Port Melbourne FC
VFL champion Ben Jolley admits he was surprised to be cut by Williamstown
Williamstown heaped hurrahs on Ben Jolley when he left the club in December.
He deserved every one of them.
The right-footer played a record 217 matches for the Towners, won four best and fairests, was captain from 2012-17 (including the 2015 premiership team) and received the Ron James Memorial Trophy nine times.
Voted on by players, the trophy recognises “respect, professionalism and sacrifices a player makes for the team’’.
There is more: seven VFL team-of-the-year selections as a Seagull, life membership of Willy and the VFL, and a state representative.
He was being described as a champion of the league a long time ago.
Ben Jolley is given a ride off the ground after playing his 200th VFL match.
But the Williamstown statement confirming Jolley’s departure contained a telling line. It said he was retiring as a “Williamstown Football Club player’’. He wasn’t retiring as a player.
It’s never easy for clubs to part ways with their greats. Not mentioned in the press release was the fact that the Towners had decided they wouldn’t give Jolley a contract for 2019.
He was keen to play on and told them so. But coach Andy Collins made the difficult call to leave his premiership skipper off the list.
“Yeah, that’s right, I had every intention of playing VFL football at Williamstown in 2019,’’ Jolley told Leader on Thursday.
“They said thanks but no thanks, it’s time to move on.’’
Jolley played 16 games in 2018 but had been left out of the team in the early rounds. Asked to play more of an outside role, his performances were steady — he was named in the best three times. But at season’s end Collins judged that at 32 his midfielder’s deeds were done and his race was run.
Jolley disagreed with the decision but understood Collins’s right to make it.
“It was a little bit of a surprise but a football club is always bigger than an individual,’’ he said.
“You can do nothing but cop it on the chin. If you still want to play, the ball’s in your court’’.
Ben Jolley and Andy Collins raise the 2015 premiership cup.
A handful of other clubs made contact when it became known Jolley wanted to stay in the VFL. Coburg was particularly keen to use his experience.
But just before Christmas he signed at Port Melbourne, adding a few cracks of pepper to the fierce rivalry between the Borough and Willy.
The clubs kick off the 2019 season with a Round 1 clash under lights at Point Gellibrand and the sight of a Williamstown champion in a Port Melbourne jumper won’t exactly have the Willy faithful turning cartwheels.
He slipped on the Borough strip last Monday night when the club resumed training in the new year. Jolley finished third in the 2km time trial.
“It felt pretty good,’’ he said of wearing Port colours.
“Different for me, no doubt, but it’s been pretty seamless so far. I really can’t recall being as excited about a season of football as I am now,’’ he said.
Jolley said that as he weighed up his future, he often heard the words “you’re a long time retired’’.
He said he was fresh physically and mentally and believed he could still play good senior football.
Williamstown leaders like Trevor Monti and Ian Rickman encouraged him to go elsewhere if he wished.
Ben Jolley the Bomber, sharing a laugh with Matthew Lloyd.
Port Melbourne coach Gary Ayres has long been a Jolley fan. They go back to Essendon, when Ayres was an assistant coach to Kevin Sheedy and Jolley was a young Dons hopeful recruited from Calder Cannons. He managed four AFL matches.
Ayres noticed his “preparation and professionalism’’ and desire to improve. And since 2008 when he joined Port he’s watched Jolley forge his reputation as a champion of state league football.
“In the end it was an easy decision (to recruit him),’’ Ayres said.
“Knowing what he could bring to the table — what, 269 VFL games? — and the fact that we’d lost quite a lot experience since the (2017) premiership, we were genuinely delighted when he chose to come to us.
“We see him as a huge acquisition. We know that at this level you need to have that balance of enthusiasm and youth but also too experience, because we know what experienced players can do in the heat of battle and Ben has done it so many times over the years, particularly in that heavy congestion.
“He’ll also be an unbelievable role model here. If our young guys think they know a little bit how to train and being professional and trying to get the best out of themselves, they’ll find out a lot more just by watching him first-hand.’’
Ayres senses a “steely resolve’’ and “great hunger’’ in Jolley, who turns 33 in February and is embarking on his 13th year as a VFL player.
“Put it this way mate, everything tells me he’s not here to make up the numbers,’’ he said.