One of the NEAFL’s few inaugural players, Aspley co-captain James Ives is set to notch game 100 this weekend in a milestone match he hardly saw coming.
“It has snuck up,” Ives told neafl.com.au.
“You don’t get too many chances across the season to kind of sit back and reflect on it all.
"In thinking about it, you’re just very grateful, not only play 100 games for the Aspley footy club but also NEAFL games. It’s pretty unique to be apart of the competition’s journey from the moment it started and every step of the way.”
Having made his league debut for the Hornets as a 17-year-old, the now 25-year-old Ives has witnessed first-hand the evolution of the competition, while witnessing his own evolution as a footballer.
“I’ve noticed from the very start the competition’s seemed to have grown every year, and got harder and harder. The challenge as an individual is to grow with the competition to make sure that you’re able to perform at the level every single year.
“I probably only got about 20 games across the first four years, just due to injury more than anything else so that was obviously quite a frustrating time, and you probably got a little dramatic in those moments wondering if your body can hold up with it all."
Like all players, the former under-16 and under-18 Queensland captain was no certainty to become a centurion, and after suffering a ghastly knee injury in 2014, Ives’ future appeared cloudy.
Ives missed a full two years of football after tearing all three of the ACL, PCL and medial major ligaments in his knee, and after rebounding with a NEAFL Team of the Year nod in his 2016 return, Ives has had to revamp his playing style and done so with great success.
“In hindsight, I’m probably not as quick as I once was which is a little frustrating," he said.
"You learn as you grow older. The more games you play the more experiences you get. You learn what works and how to play smarter. You try to make up for it in other areas of your game; so that challenge is to keep improving in everything you do regardless of your physical attributes you can still find ways to be effective.”
Elevated to co-captaincy in 2019, Ives is thankful of the network of ready-made leaders already at the club assisting him through the tribulations of leading a senior football club.
“While I’m the co-captain there’s so many different guys at different ages and levels that are able to lead make my job really easy. We’ve got a team that just wants to win and wants to perform," he said.
Former Gold Coast player and fellow centurion Jackson Allen is sharing the captaincy role with Ives, and the duo’s long history has allowed them to work together quickly.
“We’re great mates. We played footy with and against each other for a long time. Being able to go through this journey with him and bounce ideas off each other and to have the support network as well makes it a lot more comfortable," Ives said.
Ives is in the midst of some career-best football averaging 28 disposals, five tackles and two goals in the last month.
Entering a senior footy team as a teenager, Ives is fully aware of how intimidating it can be, so is enjoying the opportunity to tuck some of the Hornets’ teenage talent under his wing as they find their feet at NEAFL level.
“It’s really rewarding as well seeing those young guys and experience it for the first time. I remember my first years coming to a senior football club and it can be quite daunting but it’s certainly rewarding to be able to make that experience really special to come into and making sure they’re really comfortable at the Hornets,” he said.
This family-like attitude Ives feels toward his peers mirrors the effort he’s felt and experienced from Aspley’s dedicated team.
“I love the footy club and I love the people involved. There’s a lot of people there now that were right there by my side when I was a 17-year-old coming through that have been really supportive the entire way," he said
"You want to repay the faith, you want to perform. Ultimately, we want to win premierships to get the success that the guys that work so hard within the club deserve. I’ll do everything I can to make that happen.”
That premiership dream is getting closer for 2019 following five consecutive wins for the Hornets who are now two games clear inside the top six, but like the rest of the club, Ives is staying cautious, acknowledging the challenges that still lay ahead.
“You don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself because we’ve been in positions like this before. There’s certainly a great feeling amongst the group at the moment. It’s certainly great to be able to lead a group that’s going so well that’s putting itself in a really good position," he said.
“But ultimately if you look at the top four and the way it looks at the moment, if we want to really secure ourselves in the finals, we’ve just got to keep winning. It could all fall away pretty quickly."
Ives will raise the bat this Saturday afternoon against fourth-placed GIANTS at GIANTS Stadium in a what is set to be a lively contest with only four points separating the clubs.
“It’s really tough with AFL sides sometimes. We expect it’ll be a tough, difficult battle," Ives said.
"We know they move the ball really well. It’s gonna be a real challenge to slow the down. We’ve got to make sure we bring a lot of pressure, put them under the pump and just ensure we get the four points.”
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