AFTER spending the 2017 season starring at VFL level but unable to break into Richmond's senior line-up, Jacob Townsend finally cracked into the AFL team in round 22 of that year. The advice from coach Damien Hardwick was simple.
"It's a funny story. Just before the game he said, 'Righto 'Towna', all you need to do is go out there and kick six and you'll stay in'," Townsend said. "And that's exactly what happened."
Townsend booted six goals that day, then five the next week, and kept his spot in the Tigers' glorious ascent to their drought-breaking premiership, with Townsend kicking two goals in the Grand Final win over Adelaide.
His five-game, 16-goal run is the stuff of folklore at Richmond and the crowning point of a 10-year, 62-game and four-club AFL career that has reached its end after Townsend recently decided to retire.
The 28-year-old had been delisted by Gold Coast at the end of the season but invited to train with the Suns over summer as part of the pre-season supplemental selection period in a bid to win his place back on the list.
But Townsend made the decision to decline that offer, instead ready to move into the next phase of his life.
"I thought about it and knew I was going to be fighting for my spot with someone else and I thought the time was right for me to call time," Townsend told AFL.com.au.
"I've got the next phase already planned out and I'm really keen for that so that was why I chose not to take up that offer. I was still keen to play AFL footy if they picked me up in the rookie draft but unfortunately they didn’t and I thought the time was right.
"It was a tough call because everyone's always saying, 'You're a long time retired', which I completely get, but I've been fighting for my spot the last four years and I wanted a bit of certainty."
As he moves into focusing his time on carpentry work, Townsend's career can be broken into chapters: the first as a Greater Western Sydney original, where he joined the Giants as a zone selection and played in their first ever AFL game in 2012. He played 28 games there across four seasons before being traded to Richmond ahead of 2016.
He spent four seasons with Richmond, including the famous 2017 premiership triumph, before having one year at Essendon in 2020 and closing his career with Gold Coast in 2021.
"On paper you see someone has played for 10 years and you'd think they'd play 150 games at least and maybe more. I played 62 games, and I was fortunate enough to have one premiership in there which probably ups it a bit in terms of my career. I've been trying to fight for my spot and I reckon I was last in and first out my whole career," he said.
"Once I look back I'll probably take a bit of pride in the resilience I showed to keep turning up and I must have been showing something. I went to four teams so there must be something in that. I am proud to play AFL at the highest level for 10 years and to get the premiership in there I probably wouldn't have thought was going to happen halfway through that year."
Townsend endeared himself to teammates and supporters alike throughout his career. He was tough, physical and combative, and was prepared to put his body in the firing line, winning him many close friendships from each of his four clubs.
"Everyone asks me, 'Which team was the best?' and I can't really pinpoint one because every one was different and I was at a different stage of my career at each one. At the Giants, we were all out of the under-18s and all up there together and we didn't know what to expect. We were all just happy to be there," he said.
"At the Tigers I was fortunate enough to play in the Grand Final and because of that I'll always be tied to them in a way. At Essendon I actually played the most AFL games I ever have in a year (12) but I was only there for one year and a fair few people forget I played there because that was the year in the hub so that was another experience going to a big team like them and I didn't really spend that much time at the club in Victoria. And with the Suns I played a handful of games."
Townsend's late run to the Richmond premiership will be the defining point of his career, and saw him become a life member of the club, with his crunching tackle on Crows midfielder Matt Crouch remaining a memorable moment for Tigers fans as they've pored over the replay of the first of their three flag wins under Hardwick.
"I tried to be the best player in the reserves just in case something did happen and pop up, and Josh Caddy was injured in round 21 and I came in and played my role and kicked some goals," Townsend said.
"After the round 23 game I actually thought I was still a chance to be dropped after that and I went and saw Dimma and he said, 'Don't worry about your spot, you're in'. It was probably the first time I felt like I wasn't on the outer after any game and I think it was the most calm I've ever been.
"Everyone who comes up to me always brings up that tackle. It was just one of those moments that was there and I was fortunate enough that it was me, but that's probably the most recognised thing I've done in my AFL career."