AFTER an exhaustive pre-season campaign, Newport County AFC defender Darren Jones is ready for the real action to start this afternoon.
The 30-year-old, who was born in Newport, returned home this summer after nine years away playing for Forest Green Rovers, Hereford United, Aldershot Town, Shrewsbury Town and AFC Wimbledon.
And it’s not just the Exiles defence that Jones is settling back into as he’s also preparing for life after football by running a garage in the city.
Jones, who turns 31 at the end of the month, is the sole director of First Stop Autos at Leeway Court near County’s new training base at Spytty Park.
And he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty after a hard morning of training.
“I’m straight down there after training and into the overalls to help the guys out,” said Jones.
“It’s my business and it’s important to me, for when I retire, that I can make a go of it.
“Hopefully we can get a few County fans down here – as long as we’re doing OK on the pitch!”
Jones and teammates are fine-tuning their preparations this morning ahead of today’s visit of Wycombe Wanderers to Rodney Parade.
And Jones can’t wait to play on the new pitch after seeing it at its worst when Wimbledon beat Justin Edinburgh’s men 2-1 in February.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s been a hard pre-season and it’s a shame we didn’t get to play at Rodney Parade because I’d liked to have familiarised myself with it.
“I played there last season and the pitch was awful but it’s looking a lot better now and I can’t wait to be playing on it in a County shirt for the first time.
“That’s if I get selected,” he added. “There’s a lot of competition in defence and the manager has mixed us up in pre-season so I hope I get the nod.
“I thought I might be in the running to be captain but I’m new to the squad and the gaffer doesn’t know me that well so I didn’t expect it.”
Jones says County fans should be realistic in their expectations for the new season.
“I think realistically it will be about survival again for us,” he said. “You have to look at where the club has come from over the past few years.
“Once we are safe I don’t see why we couldn’t push for a play-off place but it’s definitely safety first.”