Melbourne stalwart Nathan Jones is being hailed as a Demons great and vital part of the club's rise up the AFL ladder after telling teammates he is retiring.
The hardluck story of the Demons' first grand final since 2000, Jones is calling it quits after 302 games - the second most in the club's history, only behind all-time leading goal-kicker David Neitz (306).
The universally popular Jones opted to return home from Perth on Saturday, with wife Jerri giving birth to Odie and Dove on Sunday morning.
The 33-year-old has not featured in the Demons' senior line-up since round 15, when he was an unused sub, and was extremely unlikely to be recalled for the decider against the Western Bulldogs.
Due to Western Australia's border restrictions, it would have been impossible for him to return for the grand final at Optus Stadium on September 25.
Jones, who captained Melbourne between 2014 and 2019, said it was a bittersweet way to bow out.
The dual Demons best-and-fairest winner told his teammates of his decision during a Zoom catch-up.
Jones stayed loyal to Melbourne in one of the most tumultuous periods in the club's history when he could have chased success elsewhere.
His career, which started under inspirational coach Neale Daniher in 2006, finishes with 101 wins, 198 defeats and three draws.
"Personally I've had a lot of emotions go through my mind from how it's all unfolded," Jones said.
"From an individual perspective, it's been disappointing, to say the least, knowing the work I've put in.
"But what I want to stress is that regardless of that I am still filled with the utmost amount of joy, happiness and pride for the position the club is now in.
"From my experiences, footy is a ruthless game and we shouldn't take what we've built and created this season for granted.
"Over the years, the two things that have driven me to stay committed to this footy club have been firstly, the chance to play in a premiership one day and secondly, to ensure that no young player coming into Melbourne would have the experience I did for many years, I wanted to leave the club in a better place.
"Looking at where the club is now, I am proud of where we are and I'm so excited for the opportunity that my teammates have ahead of them, to write a new chapter in the club's history."
Demons coach Simon Goodwin told his players that Jones' legacy at the club would last forever.
"One of the hardest things to do as a player is go through cultural change," he said.
"And we're talking about a culture that was at rock-bottom.
"He's seen that journey through and he leaves the club today a proud man."
Demons defender Christian Salem described Jones as a "massive" part of the club's culture.
"It's sad to see him retire, and the circumstances he did that are pretty unfortunate in terms of the situation we're in, in terms of COVID," Salem said.
Australian Associated Press