Jason Horne-Francis poses during the Port Adelaide's 2024 team photo day at Alberton Oval. Picture: AFL Photos

JASON Horne-Francis has packed plenty into his two-and-a-half years and 50 games in the AFL. Ahead of his first milestone, the star Yartapuulti midfielder chats with Cal Twomey about the growth in his mindset this season and the pay-off so far. 

The Power gun discusses his red-hot form, facing his ex-team this weekend, his bombshell trade request, last week's comeback win over Hawthorn, his mental maturing and whether he would choose to be the No.1 draft pick or not.  

You hit your 50th game this week. Give me a word to describe your career so far.
One word … you're putting my vocabulary to work here. I'd probably say 'scrambled'. I feel like the first year was definitely a year of getting into the system and finding my feet a bit and it was probably like that in the second year as well making the move over to Port. But I feel like this year I'm really starting to find my feet in the competition and around the club. 

Jason Horne-Francis celebrates a goal during the match between Port Adelaide and Collingwood at Adelaide Oval in R19, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

I'd say 'eventful'. How do you look at the first period of your career?
It was definitely a really good learning curve. It probably wasn't the first year I desired and at North Melbourne we weren't winning as much as I probably hoped and all that stuff, but I was still very appreciative for what they did and for them taking me as the No.1 pick so I was very appreciative of that. Coming from a winning culture when I was younger and going into that was very tough and it was a very big learning curve and I feel it's settled me and put me in good stead for these next few years to come. 

Are you just getting started?
I think so. I'm just starting to find some consistency in my footy this year and really starting to knuckle down on what a professional athlete looks like. My first two years was probably a bit raw and didn't know what it looked like but I've got a lot of people around me who are paving the way for me and really helping me. Having my family and friends at home has helped and I feel it's starting to kick off now.

There is some unique timing coming up against North Melbourne on Saturday in your first milestone game. How do you feel now about facing your old team in comparison to last year? 
I was much more nervous last year about playing them. Coming up against your mates who you played with in your first year and they're still very close mates but that nervousness and hype and pressure is probably gone so I'm a lot more relaxed now. We're playing some good footy and personally in some form a little bit so I guess the pressure is off a little bit which is good, but it's going to be really exciting having my 50th down in Hobart with hopefully all my family and friends there.

Jason Horne-Francis and Cameron Zurhaar (right) shake hands after the match between North Melbourne and Port Adelaide at Blundstone Arena in round nine, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Were you expecting more confrontation that day last year?
Probably a little bit, but I was probably glad it didn't come. I don't really mind, I might have to get used to a bit of confrontation and attention so hopefully this year is the same as last. 

Where did Sunday's win over Hawthorn rank in the best games you've played in?
I was speechless after the game and the night after I was thinking 'How the hell did we win that?' It was one of those games that I thought we pinched but credit to Hawthorn they were unreal all game and it probably came down to that last quarter where we got a bit of momentum and footy's about momentum. It ranks up there for my best wins. 


It was also one of your best with 27 disposals and two goals. How has your role evolved this season? 
I'm continually chatting to Kenny (coach Ken Hinkley) and co. about what they want and need for me. They've freed me up a lot this year to go and play to my strengths and weapons. As a team we're really good at recognising our weapons and who we want to get the ball to. I really relish playing under Ken and 'Carry' (midfield assistant coach Josh Carr) and let me utilise my strengths and weapons, which has been unreal for me this year. 

I was with the team during your training camp on the Gold Coast and it seemed you were so much more at ease with your place at the club, the team, your body. Can you describe the difference in yourself this season compared to your first at the Power?
I was very raw coming in and still learning a lot, and this year I was able to settle in and get a full pre-season in. I set it up really well with the trip over to the US with Trav (Boak), he taught me a lot of things on body and how he prepares for trainings and games, so that really set me up. The Gold Coast trip was a good bonding session for us and we put up some big numbers in that camp so it gave us a lot of confidence going into this year that we'd put in the work and our bodies could endure.

How did you deal with the pressure last year after making the decision to be traded after one year at North?
That's probably a thing I've definitely continued to improve. Even the start of this year, I probably didn't deal with it as well as I am in these past couple of games now. For me it's about learning and seeing what works for me when I get into moments of a slump. I've been talking to Dave (Steventon), our performance mindset coach at the club, and he's been unreal. When you're young you probably take footy for granted and probably think you can just go out there and play but it's a whole different story when you get up to the AFL level. That performance mindset side of playing is really important and I've really knuckled down on that the past couple of weeks. It's put me in good stead. 

Day to day what does that mental preparation look like for you?
It's probably just chatting to as many people as I can and if I have something on my mind, getting it off my chest whatever it is. Whether it's Ken, Dave or my parents it's really speaking what I feel and then we can find ways I can work around that. That's what works best for me. It might not work for other people but getting it out there is important. If I've got something on my mind, chatting to someone about it as soon as I can and then just finding ways. I spoke to Dave and I've got a lot of ways now where if I do have things I have on my mind it can clear it and go back to the task at hand.

How do you find the balance because being passionate in games can also be a strength? We've seen you fire up and play well too. 
For me it's pretty tough. I'm a really passionate person and I hate losing and it comes out sometimes. Kenny and I have a joke that I need to tone it down sometimes and he wants me to be calm, but then other times he wants it to come out of me. It's about finding that balance of when to be really aggressive but still in the rules. It can be tough but I've been chatting to a lot of people and that balance is coming into play for me, so it's pleasing to see the work being done off-field is coming into play on-field. 


What about physically? Tell me about the operations you had at the end of 2022 on your legs and how serious that could have been. 
I make a joke of it to myself now because I don't really notice it anymore, which is obviously what the surgery was for. It's put a bit of freedom on me and my legs going out there and not having to endure that for every game. It was a pretty big surgery but I was glad that when I came over to Port Adelaide they found it out straight away and got straight onto it. That's a credit to the performance guys. I was thankful I got it done and this year was able to have a full pre-season and get stuck into my third year.

Do you look back at your first year or two and see how much growth you had in you?
I learned a lot from that first and second year but looking back on it, there was a lot of things I didn't do right and I probably want to take back but that's just how life goes. You have learning curves and that's what I had. I'm really confident going into my next stage of footy and it's helped me a lot. I can't be more appreciative of my first years. 

Once you made the decision to leave North Melbourne, there was a few days before the news broke. Did you realise the reaction was going to be so strong? 
Now that you say it, I didn't think too much about how everyone was going to react to it. I was just in the moment on how it was going to get done and my manager Ben Williams was going to work. I didn't think too much about the reaction but it was definitely hard not to tell people about my decision and what I wanted to do, especially my mates and family. Some of my family knew but we kept it away from my Nanna because I knew she would go straight onto Facebook and post about it, which was tough.

Jason Horne-Francis with his family before his debut game for North Melbourne against Hawthorn at the MCG in round one, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

We've seen you have some big moments already this year in tight games. What gives you the confidence to take those on and deliver?
A big one is the belief Kenny puts into all of us. Working with him closely, the amount of trust and confidence he gives me I can't be thankful enough for. Being a young player, it gives me so much confidence in those big moments to stand up. I love those moments and the challenge when the pressure comes. That's when I can really shine and I get a lot of support around me which helps me to do that.

Wind it back a little bit to 2021. The tackle you laid on Darcy Fogarty in the SANFL while playing for South Adelaide as a teenager was brutal. I think famously you had a run-in with Sam Mayes that year too when he was playing for Port's SANFL team. How ready through that year did you feel for AFL level?
With the 'Fog' tackle we were going back and forth all game which is what competitors do. He's a competitor and so am I so it was good to get a little tackle on him and get one over him in the game, so that was that. But I was well prepared I think. South Adelaide and Jarrod Wright as coach did tremendously well in setting me up and they knew I was potentially going to get drafted so that was great. I got two years of league footy under my belt which really helped and I know now how hard the AFL is. 

I remember you were out working at the milk factory that season too and so much work goes into being the No.1 pick. If you could have the choice now, would you still want to be a No.1 pick
To be honest Cal, I'd probably shy away from the number one pick actually. I don't know. There's a lot of talk about how much pressure goes on the number one pick compared to even the number two. Dad and I joke about it and my little brother is growing up and we don't know what he's going to be but we always say we probably wouldn't want him to go number one if he was in the draft with how much pressure there is now. I wanted to be recognised as the best in the draft which was OK for me at the time and I feel is still OK, but the pressure that came with it was a lot. Yes I would change it, but no I wouldn't as well because of how much I went through in those first couple of years and maybe some of the other first-year boys wouldn't have gone through those experiences. I'm definitely thankful for what's happened so there's probably a bit of yes and no. 

Can you describe what it's like at a centre bounce when it's you, Zak Butters and Connor Rozee in there together?
We have big smiles when we see each other in there, and that's for our whole midfield group. We know each other's strengths and try to keep a smile on our face and go to work and embrace the challenge and momentum swings. With those two I know what they're going to bring each week, they're so exciting to play with and it shows my strengths when they're doing their thing as well. Me and Ollie (Wines) are a little bit more in and under players you could say, we love getting it out to those blokes and them showcasing what they can do. We love showcasing each other's weapons and we get so much joy and excitement from that. 

Connor Rozee celebrates with teammates including Zak Butters and Jason Horne-Francis after the R5 match between Port Adelaide and Fremantle at Adelaide Oval on April 13, 2024. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

It's Sir Doug Nicholls Rounds at the moment. How have you come to embrace your Indigenous background? 
I'm still learning a lot about the Indigenous culture and my dad's side of the family. Speaking to dad briefly and a lot of the Indigenous boys, it means so much to be able to represent our culture and our people and the past Indigenous players who have gone through so much. We're really excited to represent it again this week. 

We've spoken about all these things and you don't turn 21 for another month. Does it still feel very early in your career despite the events that have surrounded you? 
I still can't believe I'm in my third year of AFL footy. It's a bit funny. I've gone through a lot and come out the other side and that's with everyone as well. You have to endure a little bit to come out the other side and that's what I've done. I'm in a good place now, I'm just starting to get settled down. 

You're right into your darts so is the club going to put up a darts board as the 21st birthday present for you? 
That's a good question because we've got a little competition going at the moment for a dart board or a 'foosball' table. There's a lot of boys on the darts – it was me and Ollie, Darcy (Byrne-Jones) and 'Cluz' (Tom Clurey) and we've got Zak, Mitch Georgiades and Frank Evans as well at the moment too. The dart board has taken over which I'm really happy to see.