‘I let Freo and family down’
Michael Johnson concedes he suffered a crisis of confidence last season, and there were times when he didn’t warrant a spot in Fremantle’s injury-ravaged team.
He goes so far as to say that he let himself, his football club and his family down in a forgettable season that saw him average his fewest disposals per game (14.5) since his debut season of 2005.
But the 27-year-old has undergone a transformation since the arrival of new coach Ross Lyon, and 2012 is shaping as a year of redemption for the talented utility.
He has lost five kilograms, cut his skinfolds significantly and shaken a groin injury that has hampered him for two years.
And to underline his fresh approach to his football home of the past eight years, Johnson is preparing for a return to the backline, where he played the best football of his career in 2006.
“The last couple of seasons I’ve let myself down and my family and the club, but I know that with this playing group I’m going to be striving to be the best player I can be,” Johnson told AFL.com.auahead of Fremantle’s NAB Cup openers against West Coast and Essendon on Sunday.
“With new coaches and a new structure, all I want to do is forget about the past and show the supporters and my family and friends and teammates that I’m still a good AFL player and I’ve got plenty of years to come.
“I’m only 27 and hopefully I’ve got a good three to five years playing for the Fremantle Football Club and playing my best football.
“I’ve forgotten last season and I can’t wait to get back out there.”
Johnson played every game last season, but he was a shadow of the player that finished runner-up in the 2006 Doig Medal.
Early-season games when he struggled to get a hold of the football set his confidence on a downward spiral and, despite a number of different measures, he couldn’t get his mojo back.
“When you play a couple of games where you don’t get near the ball, and things like being slow to react when the opposition’s got the ball, it affects you,” he said. “Then other things get to you as well.
“There were a couple of weeks there where I should have been dropped, but we had no one to choose from.”
One thing Johnson refuses to blame for his poor form last season is a groin injury that he has tolerated for the past two years.
Where he once provided dash out of the backline and had a presence in the air, Johnson last year lost a yard of pace and lacked conviction in the contest.
The groin problems are gone, however, and positive results on the track have flowed this summer.
“I’m running with a lot more freedom now and getting through training without any pain,” he said. “So I’m feeling great at the moment.
“Over the break I was restricted from doing a lot of running because of the groin injury, but I got back training with the boys just before Christmas and it’s just about working hard now.
“Over the next couple of weeks I’ll get that match fitness in my legs and hopefully find some form this year.”
Johnson’s planned return to the backline came about when he sat down with Lyon at the end of last year to discuss his football future under the new coach.
He had played his best game of the season in round 24, running out of the backline against the Western Bulldogs to rack up 30 disposals – his highest tally since round 11, 2008 – and he was pleased to hear Lyon’s plan.
“The role that Ross wants me to play is that running role in the backline, so I’ve lost a couple of kilos to use my legs and run well,” he said.
“Roger (Hayden) retired last year and a couple of other guys might move around the field, so I’m keen to put my hand up and play a role like that, using my strengths to help out the team.
“I know over the last couple of seasons I’ve played here, there and everywhere, so it’s good to get back into defence.
“I’ve worked closely with Ross and how he goes about the defensive side of the game.”
While he sets out to re-establish his on-field credentials, Johnson is adamant that he has nothing left to prove off-field when the subject of his club ban in 2010 is raised.
Suspended by the club after he was charged with possession of cocaine, Johnson says it is an episode that is behind him, no longer affects him, and has made him a better person and father.
He is now determined to fulfil his potential as a footballer and achieve success with Fremantle.
“I just want to finish on a high and look back at my football career and have people say, ‘He’s played his best football, he’s done his club proud, he’s done his family proud’. I’d be happy with that.”