One of the Peter Jackson VFL’s stalwarts celebrates a significant milestone this weekend, with Williamstown captain Ben Jolley playing his 250th senior game – only the eighth VFL player in history to do so.
Following stints at Essendon’s AFL team and then Bendigo after being recruited from the Calder Cannons in the TAC Cup, the 31-year old has been a key member at the Seagulls for the last 10 seasons and skipper for the last six.
As Mitch Wynd writes, he has seen the VFL undergo significant change in that time, and in his eyes it has been for the best.
“I just think that the whole competition over the course of 13 years shouldn’t be the same as it was when it started, and it’s certainly not today,” Jolley said. “But it’s all been for the positive.
“What’s required now to be a VFL footballer and play at such a bloody high level each week is pretty demanding. For the players that do it, I have equal and utmost respect for all of them because we all know what we go through on a weekly basis dealing with full-time work, study, a whole host of other things.”
The five-time VFL club best-and-fairest winner (four at Williamstown and one at Bendigo) is entrenched within Seagulls history and never once considered leaving the club he joined after being delisted by the Bombers in 2006 and leaving Bendigo’s VFL team at the end of 2007.
“I think that once I established myself at Williamstown, and taking over the reins from Brett Johnson as captain when I was in my mid-twenties – I think that kind of put out a signal that I was set in my ways and happy to be there,” Jolley said.
“It’s one of those good-timing things where I’ve never had to entertain any offers and I never really would have considered it anyway. My time at Bendigo and Essendon was fantastic and set me up for a long career, and once I landed at Williamstown it just felt right.”
Jolley’s former coach at Essendon, the iconic Kevin Sheedy, believes that Jolley had the attitude and the skill from the start.
“(Ben was) a super-dedicated young player when he came to Essendon (in 2005) and I think in the end unlucky not to play (more) league football,” Sheedy said while reflecting on Jolley’s four-game AFL career.
“We had a very good side for most of the time at Essendon, and when you look at what’s happened with his career, his dedication was always going to get him into a fantastic leadership role. In many ways, he’s going to be a very good coach if he wants to go that way.”
Jolley left it in no uncertain terms what the Williamstown Football Club means to him.
“Family will always be your number-one priority, but the friendships that I’ve been able to create and maintain through the footy club, I hold in just as high regard,” he said.
“I’ve basically gone through a third of my life having some form of involvement with the footy club and it has been great to me in good times and bad.
“Like all good footy clubs, they’re always there offering support, encouragement, and turning young men into grown men who just want to get the best out of themselves.”