Geelong Cats star Stevie J on growing up a Collingwood fan. By Tracey Holmes.


Mr Reliable: Steve Johnson, 31, Australian rules footballer

Life has changed a little bit since becoming a father; it’s definitely put a different perspective on football. I think when you play AFL you are so consumed by it, it’s everything. You prepare yourself to play, then there’s the pressure that comes with games and the recovery and also the amount of speculation in the media around different things. But I guess becoming a father helps you take your mind off the less important things about the game.

When I was about five years old my family had a toy poodle that used to follow me everywhere. So after leaving home, Mum and Dad bought me a toy poodle for my birthday one year. It’s probably not the type of dog many people would think I would have, but that’s how it ended up. I sometimes have to justify having a poodle to my teammates. I just tell them I have an intelligent dog.

I’ve got plenty of handicaps, not just my golf handicap, which is four. Golf is a passion for me. I grew up over the road from a golf course and after school would often just walk onto the second tee, which was about 50 metres from my house, and play nine holes. It was something I always enjoyed and I find it’s the best way for me to take my mind off footy. I probably enjoy golf as a sport just as much as I do AFL football. I think if you were talented enough to have a choice, you’d probably choose golf because it takes you around the world and you earn millions of dollars more than football. For me, though, I grew up living and breathing AFL. 

Playing in the International Rules Series was an experience I really enjoyed. I’ve been wanting to test myself at that format of the game for a number of years but I’ve had injuries in the past and haven’t had the chance. I felt it was a real privilege to be chosen to represent the country. In years to come hopefully AFL football will be an international game. 

As one of the elder statesmen of the game, there’s always knowledge you can pass on to the younger players. I feel like I’ve invested heavily in our football club over the years and I want to see it be successful for years to come. If I can pass on some of my knowledge to other players who will carry on that successful culture, that would mean I’ve served my purpose.

When I was growing up I used to collect footy cards and go to AFL games when I got the chance. As a young kid I dreamt of playing in an AFL grand final and, when I got drafted, I wasn’t the type of player who just wanted to play one game – I wanted to forge a career and hopefully win a premiership. Getting the opportunity to play in a grand final in 2007 gives you butterflies because you do want to perform. Every player aspires to play well in the big games and that’s how you want to be remembered, so to win the Norm Smith Medal, as best on ground, meant that I was able to play a pretty important role on the day on the biggest stage of my life. 

Growing up I was a Collingwood supporter. I was lucky enough that Mum and Dad were AFL members and we used to get down and watch Collingwood probably six or seven times a year. I was fortunate enough to watch Peter Daicos when I was a kid and he was the type of player who was entertaining and he usually played his best in the big games as well. I appreciated all the great players as a kid and still do now.

There is pressure for players in the media spotlight. I think you just have to try to be yourself as much as you can and show people the other side of you. So often players are really worried about the things they might say because they might not stick to the “company line”. You want to straight bat things so you don’t give anything away, or you worry about saying something wrong about someone that might come back to bite you. As much as you can, I think it’s important to get your personality out there and let people understand you’re human and there is so much more to you than just playing football on a weekend.

If ever I was to pass on advice to the next generation it would be to work hard towards whatever your passions are, because anything is possible. I was a young kid who wasn’t blessed with athletic ability at all but I had a hunger to want to improve at football because I loved it.

We’re in a pretty fortunate situation in AFL football so I think we also have a duty to try and help others. We’re here because we are helped out by the members and the supporters of each club. There’s plenty of less fortunate people around who we can help, that’s why I helped out at the Salvos’ homeless Christmas lunch. If you can put a smile on someone’s face, I guess you get a lot of satisfaction out of it.

1 . This week’s highlights…

• AFL: Sydney Swans v Geelong Cats

Saturday, 7.20pm, ANZ Stadium, Sydney

• NRL: Melbourne Storm v South Sydney Rabbitohs 

Saturday, 7.30pm, AAMI Park, Melbourne

• Netball: Sydney Swifts v Canterbury Tactix 

Sunday, 2.18pm, Sydney Olympic Park Sports Centre

• Soccer: A-League final – Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC

Sunday, 4pm, AAMI Park, Melbourne

• Tennis: Rome Masters men’s final

Sunday, 11.59pm (AEST), Italy

• Cycling: Giro d’Italia – ForlÌ to Imola (Autodromo Ferrari)

Stage 11, Wednesday, 11.05pm (AEST), 153 kilometres 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 16, 2015 as "Mr Reliable".

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Tracey Holmes is a journalist and presenter for ABC News.

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