Almost exactly two years ago – in round 23, 2015 – Jacob Townsend kicked a goal midway through the second quarter to give the Giants a five-point lead over Melbourne.
Two of the 8974 in the crowd at Etihad Stadium were Richmond’s head of footy, Dan Richardson, and list manager Blair Hartley. They were there specifically to watch Townsend, who they believed could be the answer to their needs for another inside midfielder.
Hartley wasn’t happy. He was worried the career-high 22 disposals Townsend amassed that day would cost them more in a trade.
In the end, they gave up a fourth-round pick that GWS didn’t use. They got him for free.
“It’s a credit to our recruiting team,” Richardson said. “Our scouting suggested he did have the capacity to go forward and find the goals; that game showed us he could play at the level.”
It was the fourth goal of his career and he didn’t kick another one at AFL level for nearly two years. He’s now kicked 11 in two weeks after defensive forward roles on Michael Johnson and Jake Carlisle.
Townsend is now in the box seat to walk out onto the MCG in front of a potential crowd of 90,000 in a qualifying final against Geelong.
He originally came into the team because of Josh Caddy’s injury, but it would seem unthinkable to drop Townsend now.
The man who helped find him at Greater Western Sydney, Kevin Sheedy, says he’s one of the toughest players he’s seen.
Sheedy said he couldn’t be happier that Townsend has managed to silence the doubters.
“Everybody has doubts early,” Sheedy said. “Unless you have super talent … they’re always ready to doubt you.
“He never had the speed to do it early, but I’ll tell you what, there won’t be any kid tougher at Richmond. He’s the toughest kid I coached at the Giants.
“He was a very good, tough young rugby kid who crossed over to the AFL. I have no doubt Mark Williams would have convinced Richmond to get him.”
For all of his Giants career, he was essentially used as a second-string inside ball winner, filling in for the likes of Callan Ward when required.
Townsend grew up in Leeton, a town in NSW’s Riverina region, a little more than 500 kilometres west of Sydney.
He would travel huge distances for games, before the Giants eventually relocated him to Blacktown in his final year of high school.
He played in the Giants’ TAC Cup team before being selected on their inaugural list for the 2012 season, where he played in the club’s first five games.
“He’s a beautiful young kid,” Sheedy said. “He’s honest, dedicated and he’s a listener; he takes it all in.”
At 187 centimetres and 89 kilograms, Townsend wasn’t the player Richmond expected to line up next to Jack Riewoldt as a second marking option.
Richardson admits even they have been a little surprised by the past two weeks, but also said his form in the VFL had been consistently excellent.
“He’s actually deceptively tall and deceptively strong,” Richardson said.