Liam Jones in his final season at the Western Bulldogs before heading to Carlton. Picture: AFL Photos

LIAM Jones thought his time in the AFL was over when he decided to walk away from a contract with Carlton last November and move to Queensland due to his stance on the AFL's vaccine mandate. 

After playing 66 games across six seasons at the Whitten Oval, Jones had established himself as one of the premier intercepting defenders in the AFL across 95 games in seven years for Carlton. 

Then he departed the game.

BACK WHERE IT BEGAN Jones joins rare club in return to the Kennel

But now the 31-year-old has returned to the Western Bulldogs after signing a three-year deal as an unrestricted free agent on Tuesday afternoon, following a season for Palm Beach-Currumbin in the QAFL. 

Liam Jones celebrates his first AFL goal on debut for the Western Bulldogs against North Melbourne in R18, 2010. Picture: AFL Photos

"No, I certainly didn't (think another AFL opportunity would come)," Jones told AFL Trade Radio on Wednesday. 

"Twelve months ago, football would have been the last thing on my mind. I still love the game and I was interested in keeping fit and playing at whatever level I could, but at the highest level, I thought that part of my life was over.

TRADE TRACKER Every pick swap and free agency move

"I'm still pinching myself; it hasn't sunk in at the moment. When everything was processed and went through at quarter to five last night, I was over the moon. I can't believe I get the opportunity to play AFL again and to go back to the club that gave me that chance 14 years ago is pretty special."

When the AFL changed its vaccine mandate from compulsory to 'strongly encourage' in July, the door swung open for Jones to resume his AFL career. And it didn’t take long for clubs to pick up the phone to his manager, Shane Casley, from TLA. 

Jacob Weitering and Liam Jones during Carlton v Collingwood, R3, 2018. Picture: AFL Photos

Quality readymade key defenders are hard to find. It wasn't long before a handful of clubs reached out, but Jones chose to settle on a familiar home to finish a football career that looked finished less than 12 months ago, rekindling previous relationships with list manager Sam Power and head of football Chris Grant.

"To be honest, I really appreciated and was overwhelmed by the amount of clubs that were interested and appreciate all the clubs we spoke to," he said.  


"With the Bulldogs there was the familiarity and it just felt right for me. Apart from the familiarity and the love I already have for the club for them giving me a chance all those years ago, I believe the fit is right, I believe I can help this team and I believe in this list they have. I don't doubt my decision at all, I'm rapt to be back."

Jones said he enjoyed his time playing on the Gold Coast and living in Kingscliff – just south of the border in northern New South Wales – and watched every game Carlton played in 2022, but made the decision to depart Carlton based on what he thought was best for his health. 

TRADE HUB All the latest player movement news

"My decisions were all based around what I felt was best for me and my health. It was the mandate that I was unable to play AFL football anymore. I did give everything I could for the football club, but it was a rule that came into place that my health choice was not to get vaccinated. That was the outcome after making my decision," he explained. 


"It crept up really quickly and my health choice was to not do that. Unfortunately, there were no two ways around that, and because that was the case, it ended really quickly. Everyone moved on really quickly after that. 

"It was an interesting time. I felt like I was relatively new in my move to defence. I was improving every year. I felt like 2021 was my best in terms of performance and I was really excited to finally build some respect as a player and be in the leadership group. I was excited by what the next few years looked like."

Now, eight years after departing the Western Bulldogs as a key forward struggling to cement a spot at AFL level, Jones is back in Footscray to fill a hole for Luke Beveridge.