WHAT do you do as a young man of 21 when you’ve been delisted just three seasons and 14 games into your AFL career?

For Eli Templeton, it was a period of disappointment followed by one of the smartest decisions of his life as he walked through the gates of North Port Oval for the 2017 season and into the Port Melbourne family of master coach Gary Ayres.

Despite those 14 AFL games for St Kilda and 45 in the VFL for Sandringham after being the No.3 pick in the 2013 AFL Rookie Draft from the Burnie Dockers, Templeton was immature by his own admission, but Ayres nurtured him on and off the field.

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The dashing wingman played in the Borough’s thrilling premiership victory in his first season,  finished runner-up in the best-and-fairest and earned the first of three consecutive selections in the VFL Team Of The Year.

He was added to the leadership group in 2018 and came third in the B&F before winning it in 2019.

After last year was lost to coronavirus, Templeton was elevated to the vice-captaincy this season and has responded with the best form of his career that could earn him a second chance at the top level.

While Port Melbourne has struggled with injuries and in-game lapses to sit second last on the ladder at 1-5, he has put together some stunning numbers, averaging 34.8 disposals, nine marks, five tackles, six clearances and eight inside-50s per game, while also kicking eight goals.

He peaked against Carlton last Saturday with a club-record 49 disposals, two goals, 13 marks, five tackles, eight clearances and a VFL-record 17 inside-50s – all in a losing cause.

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It means he prepares for his 100th VFL appearance against none other than arch-rivals Williamstown in their Johnson-Callahan Cup Heritage Match at ETU Stadium on Sunday, riding a wave of form that he gives Ayres a lot of credit for – alongside a well-known trio back in Tasmania.

“Dad (Peter) was a pretty good player and played a lot of rep footy back home in Tassie, so I looked up to him, and “Dogga” (former Fitzroy and North Melbourne player Matthew) Armstrong and Adam Sanders were pretty good for my development too coming through the junior ranks,” Templeton said.

“But without a doubt ‘Gaz’ (Ayres) would have to be biggest influence on my career.

“Coming from the Saints I was probably a bit immature, but he ironed that out and once you’ve earned Gaz’s trust he’ll back you to the hilt – he’s been great for me, not only for my footy but my personal life as well.

“His resume speaks volumes for what he’s done on the footy field, but once you get him off the field, playing or coaching, he’s just a ripper person to turn to and to have in your corner and if you ever need anything his door is always open.”

Templeton said he felt a sense of pride at reaching 100 matches at the second highest level, with his 45 games and 32 goals for Sandringham being followed by 54 appearances, 33 goals and all the accolades mentioned above for Port Melbourne.

“It was a disappointing time (being delisted by St Kilda), but on the flipside of the coin I’ve had a lot of great experiences at Port, signing in 2017 and in that year we were able to win the premiership so that is something I’ll hold dear,” he said.

Eli Templeton celebrates a goal in Port Melbourne's 2017 VFL Grand Final win against Richmond. Picture: Getty Images

“It’s a great club and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else to be honest ... it has been very good to me and I’m just happy to be able to give back with my form.”

He admitted playing Williamstown added a little bit of spice to his 100th game and hoped it could kickstart the Borough’s season.

“I’m pretty hungry to win every week but obviously the rivalry with Willy is always pretty heated, and just in terms of where we are with our season it’s a do-or-die moment,” he said.

“If we can manage to get up over the Gulls this weekend it might just be the thing that turns our season around and kickstarts our drive for a finals campaign.

“Early on we had a lot of injuries, but we got blown out of the water in the first quarter by Aspley up there and after quarter-time we hung tough and came out level after that.

“Every game we’ve played we’ve been in up to our eyeballs and just the little moments, the lack of concentration – 10 minutes here, five minutes there, I think that’s what’s hurting us at the moment, so I think if we can iron those out we should be challenging at the back end of the year.”

David Armitage helps Eli Templeton celebrate a goal for St Kilda in round three, 2014. Picture: AFL Photos

Templeton said he had no idea about his disposals record until he received a text from the man he deposed on Monday night.

“I actually got a text message from Toby (Pinwill) with a screenshot of something he had come across on Twitter – I wasn’t aware but it’s a pretty big honour to have that and to take it off Toby, who is one of the Port Melbourne greats of all time,” he said.

“He pops his head down every now and then and it feels like whenever you see him he hasn’t left the place – he’s a ripper fella, he was a ripper player and he’s someone I look up to around the club.”