A conversation with Aussie Jones at the end of 2012 was a sliding door moment for Jake Aarts.
Jones wanted Aarts to follow him from Beaconsfield to Bendigo to play for the Bendigo Gold in the VFL.
The then 17-year-old Aarts wasn't convinced it was the right thing to do. It's a good thing Aarts listened to the former St Kilda star.
Last Sunday he realised his childhood dream when he made his AFL debut for Richmond - the club he supported passionately as a child.
"I really wasn't sure whether to go to Bendigo or not,'' 25-year-old Aarts said this week.
"Aussie was on my back to go with him and all my mates at Beaconsfield wanted me to go.
"They could see what an opportunity like that could lead to whereas I was probably more focused on playing at Beaconsfield with my mates.
"I'm so glad that I did make the move. Not only did it help me get to Richmond, but it took me further in life."
While the Gold were the whipping boys of the VFL in Aarts two years in Bendigo, the experience of playing in arguably the second-best competition in Australia made the midfielder/forward a better footballer.
"I loved my two years in Bendigo. I know we didn't have the team success we wanted, but I met some great people and I had a lot of fun,'' Aarts said.
"Playing on the QEO was a great place to play footy. It's one of the best grounds I've had the chance to play on.
"The night games we played at the QEO were great because it was always against good opposition and we'd get a good crowd there to watch us.
"We were always the underdogs and, even though we'd get smacked around a bit, it was a lot of fun."
Gold coach Jones was critical to Aarts' development.
"As a coach and person, Aussie's relationship with his players was great.
"He got the most out of a side that really wasn't going anywhere and made sure we enjoyed what we were doing.
"Any player that played on those teams would tell you how much fun they had regardless of the results.
"It was a tough time for the club, particularly Aussie, but I can look back on those two years now, knowing that I'm glad that I played for the Gold."
Without that experience with the Gold, Aarts might not have been picked up by Richmond's VFL team.
His performances at VFL level with Richmond led the Tigers to elevating him to their AFL rookie list a couple of years ago.
Aarts' never say die attitude and impressive work ethic led him to a well-deserved AFL debut last Sunday against Melbourne at the MCG.
Normally, a Richmond-Melbourne game at the MCG would attract a crowd of at least 50,000 people.
COVID-19 restrictions ensured Aarts' debut was in front of empty stands.
"It was different, but I was so focused on what I had to do that I didn't even notice that no-one was there,'' he said.
"I was that in the zone it wouldn't have mattered if there was a crowd there or not. I was just focused on what I had to do to help the team.
"I was told on Thursday that I was playing then it all happened so quick that I really didn't have time to get nervous.
"By the time I ran out on the ground on Sunday it was just like another game of footy.
"I really didn't change anything in my preparation compared to any game I've played in the last four years.
"To be honest, it probably still hasn't sunk in properly (that I played AFL).
"All I wanted to do was play my role."
Play his role is exactly what Aarts did.
Playing mainly across half-forward, Aarts collected 15 possessions, three marks and two tackles in a more than credible debut.
"I'd been waiting a long time, so to finally get that first one out of the way was great."
His first kick in league football set up a goal to key forward Tom Lynch.
"That first kick was a bit of a shank, for sure, but I'll take that one,'' Aarts said with a chuckle.
The morning after his first game Aarts joined his team-mates on a flight to the Gold Coast where the Tigers will be based in a hub for at least the next two weeks.
"I was excited to get out of Melbourne,'' Aarts said.
"We've settled in pretty well. The weather is good up here and we're making the most of a strange situation.
"All our families are back in Melbourne in lockdown which is not ideal.
"The good thing up here is that we're all together in our hub and we can build on our relationships and connections.
"Your on-field connection comes from your off-field connections, so it's good to be together as a team again."
Connections with former team-mates provided Aarts with one of the highlights of his AFL debut.
In the lead-up to the game he received a plethora of congratulatory messages from his former Bendigo Gold team-mates.
"I do keep in touch with the Bendigo Gold boys regularly,'' Aarts said.
"Most, if not all, sent me a message last week which was great. That says a lot about the club."
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