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Q&A — Jacob Townsend

Richmond’s Jacob Townsend is the definition of a player who has taken his chance… The 24-year-old didn’t manage a senior game until Round 22, where he bagged six goals and played a negating role on Michael Johnson. Then, he kicked five against St Kilda and played a vital role in stopping Jake Carlisle. The former Giant sat down with on the eve of the finals.

Are you enjoying a day off today?

Yeah, with the bye this weekend we have Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off which is good.

What’s planned for the break?

My family is down so I’ll spend a bit of time with them and that’s about it.

I assume they were at the game yesterday?

Yeah, they were. That’s the first senior game they’ve seen me play this year because I’ve been in the twos. They were pretty excited to come and see me play and thankfully I played alright again.

Spending four years at the Giants, I imagine it was a tough team to break into during that time. How would you describe life with GWS? 

To be able play in the first game for the club was surreal, I’m sure not many players in the competition could say they’ve done that. They’re a pretty talented side and I’m sure they’ll go far in the finals series this year. I played 28 games there and would like to have played more in the four years but that’s how it worked out.

You played more of a midfield role there? As a tagger?

Yeah, I was more of a tagger up there. Kevin Sheedy took a liking to my style and play — bash and crash and winning the contested ball. Of those 28 games I would have tagged or played on someone for 26 of them I reckon. I was definitely more of a midfielder than I was a forward, but then I changed when I came to Richmond. I was still in the midfield last year, but then we got Josh Caddy and Dion Prestia this year, and I knew the whole time that I needed to move forward if I was going to play a game. So that’s what I’ve done.

What was the environment like being at a new club with a number of other young players? We here about the stories of the lack of facilities etc.

We were all either 17 or 18-year-olds, and being our first AFL club, we didn’t really know anything else or what to expect. At the time we didn’t know about the facilities and what we had to do for those first couple of years. In a way, they weren’t fitting for a professional sporting team. All of us were young and we didn’t know what to expect. Looking back now and thinking about the things that we did — we were training on a baseball oval for our pre-seasons because we didn’t have an AFL ground. That brought us together as a group, and there was about 20 or 30 of us all staying together at Breakfast Point. I’m still best mates with a fair few of the boys up there, so the environment they built for us was good.

How did the opportunity at Richmond come about?

In my last year at the Giants I wasn’t playing many games, so I was keen to for more opportunity. I think they [Richmond] were watching me playing in the NEAFL and had some interest, so they approached me and let me know that they were keen for me to come over. I had a two-year deal at the Giants so I had think about which club I would play my best footy at and potentially get more games. I had to make a choice to stay at the Giants or go to Richmond, and I obviously made the call to go to Richmond which was a pretty tough choice. I wouldn’t say there were tears, but it was an emotional decision because I had been there from the start and the club gave me an opportunity to play AFL. I was close with all the boys and the coaching staff.

What was it like moving to Melbourne? Was it daunting to come to a foreign place?

Apart from coming here for footy, I had barely come to Melbourne at all. I didn’t know too much about the place. I didn’t know many people either, there were a couple of mates from home but apart from that I knew no one. As soon as I came to the club I felt comfortable though and I’m enjoying myself in Melbourne.

You would have known Anthony Miles from his GWS days and Choco, but was there anyone else you knew?

I knew Todd Elton from the Australian Institute of Sport team the year before we were drafted, but apart from him and Milesy, I didn’t know any other players. As for the coaching staff, I knew good old Choco from GWS.

You didn’t get the opportunities in your first year at Richmond… how would you assess 2016?

I played the first couple of games in the senior team and then got dropped. I ended up playing four games in the ones for the season, and I probably didn’t handle the demotion as best as I could. I didn’t have a whinge, but I thought that the club got me here for a certain role in the side and I felt pretty harshly done by. But when I look back at it now, I felt my form probably wasn’t up to the standard. I spoke to the coaching staff at the start of this year and told them that I couldn’t see myself getting a run in the seniors in the midfield, so is there any chance of me going up forward and playing that role. I felt that was my best chance and they were really receptive to it. That’s how I changed things up.

So there were no issues on their end? They were all for the move?

Yeah, they were. We got Prestia and Caddy in the off-season and I knew that my form from the previous year wasn’t really up to scratch, so it would have been tough to crack into the side as a midfielder. I went to them and asked and went from there.

Was it frustrating that it then took until Round 22 of this year to get a crack?

Yeah, it was tough. Each person on a list would prefer to be playing ones, but you can’t fit 44 blokes into 22. As I said, I knew at the start of the year that it would be tough for me to get picked so I was just focusing on playing the best I could in the reserves, and not thinking about whether I would be picked or not. It would be a bonus if I did get picked, but if someone was to go down with injury I wanted to be the first player picked from the twos. As soon as they picked the side for that Carlton game, I was a bit dirty that I wasn’t picked like most players would be, but I thought that I couldn’t do much about it now, I just knew that I had to go out and play good footy and they’d have to play me eventually.

It would be fair to say that when you got the chance last week against Fremantle, and then again yesterday against St Kilda, you took your chance. You must be pinching yourself to kick 11 goals in two weeks…

I wasn’t expecting to go over to Perth and kick six, I was expecting to go over and play on Michael Johnson and trying to stop him playing his best footy. Fortunately, I ended up kicking six and five against the Saints. I can only kick goals if the midfielders and defenders are doing their job, and they are which helps me to kick the goals.

And you did a job on Carlisle yesterday?

Yeah I did. I tried to go to him and do the best I could. He’s a pretty big man and there were a few occasions where he threw me out of the way. He was my target for the day.

What does that role look like? With him being St Kilda’s best intercept marker, does the coach want you to move him away from the footy or do you take him to the ball?

It’s pretty well documented that we don’t have a lot of key forwards, so I’m playing that second key forward role and being that target down the line and competing hard and bringing the ball to ground. Then all our fast small forwards and midfielders can do their job at ground level. I wasn’t exactly trying to take him away, but I was trying to prevent him from coming in third man up. If I just take him away from the ball, then I’m pointless to the team in a way so I need to compete in the air and bring the ball to ground.

Watching your set shot, you seem to be striking the ball well. Is that something you have always backed yourself in to do, or are you just on a hot streak?

No, I’m actually not too sure what’s going on over the last couple of weeks! I’ve always had trouble with my set shots but I’m not sure what has been going on but they seem to be going through alright so I don’t want to change too much. When I’m taking a set shot I’m taking a few deep breaths and not trying to focus on the ball drop or the run up. I’m just trying to kick the footy.

I saw that with your fifth goal, you were taking some deep breaths and really waiting for the last second to begin your routine…

Yeah, with the 30 seconds on the board I try and use them all up. Normally I’m pretty tired when I have the ball in my hands so I like to take the full 30 to calm myself down.

If I told you three weeks ago that you’d play the last two games of the season, kick 11 goals and then be up for selection in a Qualifying Final against Geelong, what would you have said to me?

I would have asked if you were talking to the right bloke… I wouldn’t have thought I’d be doing that or felt that it was possible.

Are you pinching yourself?

Yeah! Three weeks ago I didn’t really know what I would be doing, whether I’d have to wait post trade period to see if I would get another deal, but I’ve played a couple of games I’m not sure if that now changes. I am pinching myself in a way. To be playing in the side at all coming up to the finals is amazing. Hopefully I’ll be picked for the first final.

So you’re still out of contract? What’s the latest there?

It’s something I’ll have to wait for until the season ends. Two weeks ago I wasn’t sure where I was sitting, and I’m not sure whether any of that has changed in the last few weeks, so I’ll have to sit down and chat with my manager and weigh it all up.

There’s some great players at the club — the likes of Rance, Riewoldt, Cotchin and Martin etc. what’s it like to rub shoulders with them, and specifically with Dusty?

All of those guys are superstars of the competition so to come to a big club like the Tigers and play with them has been great. Dusty gets a bad rap from people outside our four walls, but he’s actually a very quiet man. He doesn’t say much at all. He has a bit of a bad boy persona, but he’s actually not. He’s a very good player and he goes about his business on game day. He and I are mates and I have enjoyed playing with him.

Who’d you support growing up?

I went for Essendon and I loved James Hird. I still have a bit of a soft spot for them.

What was it like to play against them?

I’ve played against them two or three times and it’s nice to see them playing finals after everything they’ve been through over the last couple of years, or even more than that. It’s been good to see their players coming back and for them to be going well.

Thanks for taking some time to have a chat on your day off, and good luck for September and beyond.

Cheers mate. Appreciate that.