Jacob Townsend grew up in a red and black jumper with James Hird’s iconic No.5 worn proudly on his back.
Now entering his ninth AFL season, the 26-year-old has finally been reunited with the sash, joining the Bombers via the pre-season supplemental selection period.
Townsend thought his professional career was over when he was delisted by Richmond this year, but Essendon’s eagerness to find an experienced hard nut has seen him realise a childhood dream.
“I’m very grateful and thankful for the Essendon Football Club for giving me another chance when I thought my time was up,” Townsend said.
“I was a Bombers fan, I’m not too sure why I chose the Bombers, but I did. I had a guernsey with James Hird’s number five on the back - I’ve still got that at home with Mum.
“Coming from a small town of Leeton and now playing in Melbourne at such a big AFL club, I can’t wait to put on the guernsey and represent the club.”
The versatile former Tiger and Giant enters the club with 48 senior games and a number of achievements under his belt including a premiership medal for his role in Richmond’s drought-breaking flag in 2017.
Townsend’s efforts during that particular campaign is the stuff of legend. Entering the side in round 22, he exploded onto the scene with six goals and 16 disposals, backing it up a week later with a bag of five goals to cement his spot in the line-up.
In the side’s impressive run to the premiership he continued his strong form with five goals across the three finals, including a pair on the biggest stage of them all in the Grand Final.
That game drew his season tally to 16 goals from just 32 kicks in a remarkable display of efficiency, while he was also rewarded with the JJ Liston Trophy as the VFL’s best and fairest for his terrific season.
While he subsequently struggled for consistent senior opportunities, Townsend continued to fire at VFL level for the Tigers, culminating in the club’s VFL premiership this year – a season in which he was named in the best 14 times and kicked 21 goals in 18 games.
The New South Welshman is notorious for playing like a man possessed, constantly applying pressure and throwing his weight around, and he said his physicality was something he took pride in.
“I grew up in Leeton playing rugby union – I didn’t start playing football until I was 13 or 14 – so I think that’s where it comes from,” he said.
“I enjoy going out there and trying to hurt the competition, and obviously I’ll come here and just play the same way.”
Despite spending plenty of time forward in his time at Richmond, Townsend is keen to return to his midfield roots as a Bomber.
“The last few years I’ve turned into a bit more of a forward than an inside mid, but I started my career as an inside mid and I think that’s where they see me playing here.
“That’s where I think I’ll start, just as an inside mid trying to get the ball out to the outside players.”
In four years at Greater Western Sydney, Townsend was utilised mainly as an onballer. It was there that he met and played alongside fellow Giants-turned-Dons Devon Smith – who he lived with for a number of years – Dylan Shiel, James Stewart and Andrew Phillips.
Settling into The Hangar will be slightly easier for Townsend, who has experienced moving clubs before and is reuniting with even more familiar faces, including coaches Ben Rutten and Blake Caracella who played their own roles in the 2017 premiership.
For now, the new Bomber’s aims are clear as he begins his new journey.
“Come in, start training and trying to get fit, try to earn the respect of my teammates and build those friendships and connections with them – that’s my main focus at the moment.”