IT WASN'T all that long ago that the idea of Liam Jones running down an opposition speedster appeared mission impossible.

Rightly or wrongly, there was a perception that the big key forward either didn't want to put in the effort, or he physically couldn't do it.

Against Collingwood at Etihad Stadium on Sunday night – his first AFL game in five weeks – Jones performed the feat not once but twice, earning free kicks after collaring slippery Pies duo Clinton Young and Heritier Lumumba.

Jones kicked an equal career-best four goals, clunked contested marks and crashed packs in the most influential performance of his 64 AFL games but the 23-year-old will earn more plaudits, internally at least, for his career-best defensive pressure.

Those two desperate chase-and-tackle efforts were symbolic of the Bulldogs' intensity during their upset eight-point win, and were perhaps the strongest sign yet that the penny has dropped for Jones.

Bulldogs in thrilling upset win against Magpies

Following the retirement of Barry Hall at the end of 2011, Jones – then just 20 and with just 25 games' experience – was unfairly lumbered with the expectation that he would "replace" the Swans premiership spearhead by carrying the Dogs forward line.

Such expectations were doomed to remain unfulfilled – at least in the short-term.

Jones' inconsistency has at times mirrored that of his team but now he has a better base of fitness, a greater appreciation of the work ethic required and an acute understanding that marks and goals are not the be-all and end-all, and that competing – and competing fiercely – is.

And he is determined to prove that his heroics against the Pies wasn't a one-off, at least where raw effort is concerned.

Jones told that his turning point was his two-match suspension for rough conduct in the round eight win over Melbourne at the MCG.

With the Dogs to have a bye when Jones' ban had expired, and the likelihood he would return through the VFL, the Bulldogs saw the opportunity to put him through some torturous training sessions that amounted to a mid-season, mini pre-season.

"The fitness staff smashed me - absolutely flogged me every day – with repeat-effort stuff," Jones told post-match, before Dogs CEO Simon Garlick congratulated him with a warm handshake and a hug.

"Watching the boys from the sidelines I was just dying to get back out there with them and do my job.

"It's good to see some dividends from all the hard work. I ran out the game a lot better than I did before the suspension."

Jones says it was "definitely" his best AFL game because it was one of the few times where the defensive and offensive elements of his game "came together".

He laid six tackles – a personal best.

"Everyone outside the club judges me on goals but inside the club the efforts and spoils and tackles and chases are what we really value. That's what probably got us over the line today," he said.

The high-flyer is determined to keep his feet on the ground. Next week the Dogs take on a rebounding Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval.

"I'll review my tape. There are obviously quite a few things to tidy up but it's something to build on," he said.

"I've got to back it up now with effort like that every week."

Jones' opponent for most of the night was his former Williamstown teammate Jack Frost, with the occasional match-up on Lachlan Keeffe.

"I got to know 'Frosty' a bit and he's been playing really well, so it was funny to play on him," Jones said.

Frost wouldn't have seen much joy in it, but Dogs coach Brendan McCartney certainly liked what he saw.

"What he's done in the past – and this is what's landed him in a bit of hot water and had him criticised for it – is big gaps between his best and his worst," McCartney said.

"But even before he got suspended, the gap between them wasn't as significant, it was minimising.

"Some of them just take a bit longer to mature and he's a good kid, the club's important to him and he also wants to be seen a certain way.

"Hopefully we can help him get a bit closer to be the player he wants to be."

Twitter: @AFL_BenCollins