GWS's Townsend returns to scene of senior debut

GIANT AMBITION: Leeton-born GWS midfielder Jacob Townsend shows St Mary's student Zackari Ross how it's done during Wednesday's clinic at Exies Oval. Picture: Anthony Stipo

GIANT AMBITION: Leeton-born GWS midfielder Jacob Townsend shows St Mary's student Zackari Ross how it's done during Wednesday's clinic at Exies Oval. Picture: Anthony Stipo

Australian football

THE last time GWS Giants star Jacob Townsend graced Exies Oval, he was almost decapitated by a Griffith Swans player.

Making his Riverina Football League senior debut at the tender age of 15, the Leeton-Whitton product recalls his first touch of the footy well - which is quite fortunate, because he could have easily seen stars instead.

"I can't remember who it was but they tried to clean me up a bit and take off my head, which was good. I don't mind that at all," Townsend laughed.

"I think I kicked a couple of points as well, which probably should have been goals.

"I don't think I played here again after that, because I went away, but it was always a bit hostile."

While that sort of treatment is par for the course when the Crows come to Griffith, it was a different story on Wednesday when Townsend put local kids through their paces during a clinic and Q&A session at Exies.

On a whistlestop trip through the Riverina with teammates Liam Sumner, Jake Barrett and Mark Whiley, Townsend - now 20 - looks back on his rough-and-tumble introduction to the RFL as the ideal breeding ground for the AFL environment.

“If you’re playing with the big boys then you get treated like one,” he said.

“In the TAC Cup, for instance, coaches go on about how they all come through at the same age and everyone wants to play offence.

“When you’re coming through country footy, you take on older blokes who want to rough you up and you learn how to be tough a little quicker.”

Tough nut Townsend is one of several Riverina players on the GWS list, along with Narrandera’s Zac Williams and Temora’s Jake Barrett, while former Giant Kurt Aylett now plays for Essendon.

He said he was honoured to be able to “get around” kids from his home region - and especially a little further inland from Wagga, where the Giants do most of their Riverina community work.

The lack of engagement from GWS in Griffith was part of the reason why the Swans decided to remove the Giants branding from their second junior club, renaming it ‘Swans White’ this year.

“Everyone thinks I’m from Wagga, actually,” Townsend said.

“I’ve been to Wagga four times for stuff like this and this is the first time I’ve ever been out here for it.

“The kids around here don’t get this very often and there’s around 200 of them here, which is really nice.

“I know what it was like coming to these things as a kid and seeing AFL players.

“You grow up dreaming of playing AFL and to come back and share my stories of how I was drafted is fantastic.”

Townsend has played 26 games for GWS, seven of them coming this season, and is growing into his tagging role with every week.

The Giants have won just three times this year but remarkably, only three wins separate them from the top eight.

“We probably should have won a couple more early on,” he said.

“We haven’t set any targets or goals of how many we want to win - it’s just about improving in our key areas that we talk about as a group.

“We are doing that. We’re only young - we’re all 20, 21, so we’ve got plenty of time to learn still.”

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