WILLIAMSTOWN legend Ben Jolley is returning home with the competition’s long-standing games record still in sight.
Jolley, who will be 37 when the 2023 Smithy’s VFL season gets underway, has returned to Williamstown Football Ground, with the Seagulls announcing the return of their games record holder on Wednesday.
He was one of three big-name recruits unveiled by Williamstown, along with North Melbourne star Marty Hore and ex-Melbourne and Carlton defender Oscar McDonald.
Jolley has played 290 VFL matches since his debut with Essendon in 2005, suiting up for the Bombers, Seagulls and Port Melbourne.
He returned to Windy Hill from ETU Stadium this year but managed only three games for the club where he made four AFL appearances at the start of his career.
His return to Williamstown keeps him in line to become just the third VFL player to reach the magical 300-match milestone, behind Port Melbourne and Seagull legend Bill Swan (302) and the Borough’s late goalkicking superman Fred Cook (300).
Footscray pioneer William Harris (294) is the only other player to have played more VFL games than Jolley.
“You’re a long time retired. So while there is still an itch to be scratched, that itch being to play and contribute, then why not pursue it?” Jolley said.
“A lot of it is relationships. People speak in generality about my career and having been around for a very long time. Plappy was the development coach here in 2010 (and) Jeff Andrews was one of my coaches back at Calder in my final year.
“The attachment that has come from my history here at the club is a nice footnote but it is more those types of things that take priority at this stage.”
Despite closing in on the VFL games record, Jolley said he wouldn’t be focusing on the milestone.
“300 is not going to be a number we will speak about again until I’ve played the 299. The reason being when it was possibly achievable we had a season cancelled by Covid, then a season cut in half, and then not really being considered at Essendon this year.
“If that happens it will be fantastic, but it’s all about preparing to play a year of football and whatever magic number spits out at the end of it will be the number.”
Jolley, the Seagulls’ games record holder with 218, Hore and McDonald add to a rich list of recruits as Williamstown aims to surge up the VFL ladder after finishing 20th with just three wins this year.
It proved to be the club’s least successful season since its winless 1995 campaign, with the Seagulls missing the finals for the first time since 2005.
Williamstown has targeted players to fill the experience drain of the past two seasons, when more than 1800 games walked out the Morris St gates.
North Melbourne’s 2021 VFL best and fairest Harry Jones has been lured to the Seagulls, along with fellow Roos’ pair Mat Walker and Jack Lipscombe.
They will be joined by East Perth utility Jack Cooley and Brisbane Lions midfielder Toby Triffett, while high-flying forward Nick Ebinger and experienced head Jason Pongracic have returned to the club.
“The big thing that was missing from our club last year, and Covid had a really big part to do with us losing a lot of experience, was to get leaders and people with high standards to teach and lead and be able to take our football club in the right direction,” coach Justin Plapp said.
Hore and McDonald said they were keen to continue playing footy at the highest level possible and were determined to help lift the Seagulls back into their customary position of playing finals football.
“Williamstown really stood out to me. I really wanted to play for a standalone club and this has a great community feel about it,” McDonald said.
“They’ve got great people here, good characters. I know a few of the players already, it just ticked all the boxes so I’m keen to get going.”
“(Plapp) is one of the only coaches I still keep in contact with. We had a really good friendship at Melbourne. We’ve always touched base since then.
“It definitely plays a role that you have a familiar face there who you get along with really well with a good character to draw you to the footy club.”
Hore said he was excited to be joining one of the country’s proudest football clubs.
“I was keen to join a standalone club and have that local footy club feeling while still playing a high level of footy,” Hore said.
“It’s a proud, successful club. I’ve been playing VFL for five or so years and they’ve always been up and around the mark, winning premierships, playing finals and we’re both keen to get that footy club back where it belongs, playing finals footy and making this a fortress again.”