You could have forgiven Jacob Townsend for being a little flat about football’s indefinite postponement.
The new Bomber had spent months of pre-season working settling into his third AFL club, and won a spot in their round one meeting with Fremantle.
Playing as their go-to marking forward in an attack depleted by injuries, Townsend starred, booting three first-half goals in Essendon’s tight win. His overhead marking, steady finishing and sheer competitiveness – a quality central to Essendon signing him last December after his delisting at Richmond – were on display.
Then, and for how long nobody knows, the game was halted as a result of the coronavirus outbreak that has spread around the world.
“I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say it’s frustrating. Obviously I’d trained all pre-season at a brand new club and forced myself into the side for the first game and played OK, so I was keen on having a good start to the year,” Townsend told AFL.com.au.
“But now that’s been put on hold I’ll wait and see until we’re back and keep doing what I was doing.”
For the first week after the games stopped, I was driving myself insane
The 2017 Richmond premiership player hasn’t wasted much time keeping busy, though. Since the AFL imposed its shutdown, the 26-year-old is among five Bombers – alongside Jake Stringer, Shaun McKernan, Jayden Laverde and Kyle Langford – to have started a work placement with Border Express, the delivery and shipping company which is a corporate partner of the club.
The players are ‘casual parcel sorters’, seeing them jump between a number of roles, be it unloading the boxes from the pallets to the conveyor belt, assigning the packages to their locations, or sorting them into delivery trucks.
The players have generally been at Border Express’ headquarters for night shifts beginning at 5pm and finishing at 10.30pm, gaining an insight into work away from the football field.
“For the first week after the games stopped, I was driving myself insane,” he said.
“They were keen to help as soon as they heard we were keen to do something with our time and to see what the real world’s like as well.
“We train and play footy every day nearly so it’s nice to be able to put on another hat and see what other guys do in their lives.”
The uncertainty on the sidelines, although a different scale, isn’t new to Townsend, who headed into last off-season unsure if his AFL career was over.
After being a key player in Richmond’s dream run to their breakthrough premiership in 2017, he managed 10 games with the Tigers in 2018 before just one last year.
His time ended at Richmond on good terms, so much so that the club was rapt when news filtered around the Tigers’ playing group that Essendon was poised to sign Townsend in the pre-season supplemental selection period.
Townsend arrived thinking he may play in the midfield, helping support a group of smaller midfielders around him with his physical edge. But he’s settled into his spot in the front half.
“I think I’ve changed my tune a bit over the pre-season to hopefully playing forward for the rest of the year,” he said.
I’ve signed one-year deals for the past three years so I’ve been through this before
– Jacob Townsend
He is part of the ex-Tigers crew at Tullamarine, joining former Richmond assistants Ben Rutten and Blake Caracella, as well as football manager Dan Richardson. Richardson was key to getting Townsend to Richmond following four years at Greater Western Sydney.
Over summer, as the Bombers implemented some game plan methods successful at Punt Road, it was left to Townsend to do some of the directing despite only just arriving at Essendon.
“There’s times when we’ve been out training and there’s blokes who have asked me what we should be doing here because it’s what we were doing at Richmond, so it’s a bit of a weird feeling when people like Michael Hurley, a two-time All Australian, was asking me, ‘What should I do here?’,” he said.
Townsend joined Essendon on a one-year deal keen to prove his worth. His early days had done just that, and although football’s interrupted period has led to discussions about cut list sizes, his past has taught him to keep his focus narrow.
“I can’t control who gets the contracts, when we’ll be back playing or if they’re going to change the size of the lists. If we were playing all, I could focus on is going out there and training and playing the best I can. If that’s good enough to earn another deal then it is, but if it’s not, then that’s it,” he said.
“I’ve signed one-year deals for the past three years so I’ve been through this before. This stage of the year is just maintaining my fitness so when we do come back I can put my best foot forward to be picked in that team again.”