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Stevie J eyes one more flag before the end

Football

Retiring star Steve Johnson is renowned for being a rascal but resilience is the trait that has given him a sniff of signing off with a fourth AFL premiership.

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The Greater Western Sydney veteran – and former Cats star – confirmed today a decision he made a year ago, that 2017 would be his final season.

Johnson’s goal-kicking wizardry was a hallmark of Geelong’s 2007, 2009 and 2011 flags.

Johnson also collected three All-Australian gongs and a Norm Smith Medal with the Cats, who made it clear he was on his final chance in 2007 after suffering an injury while drunkenly climbing a fence at a pub.

The 34-year-old’s chirp and cheek on the field throughout a 289-game career is the stuff of legend but there is also a serious side to him.

It is reflected in Johnson’s leadership at GWS but also the fact he eked out two extra seasons after being offloaded by Geelong in 2016.

“He’s running around purely on adrenaline,” GWS coach Leon Cameron said of Johnson, who has played 14 games this year and struggled with a chronic knee injury.

“It’s a huge battle. When he’s up and down stairs at home with his kids, he’s aching a fair bit and thinking how am I going to get up on Saturday?

“But he works his mind over and gets up.

“There’s been some massive names that have finished up in the last week or two and he’s right up there with them.”

Johnson joins fellow AFL greats Matthew Boyd, Jobe Watson, Nick Riewoldt, Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell, Matt Priddis and Scott Thompson in hanging up the boots at the end of the season.

The goalsneak suggested it was too early to reflect on a career that has featured plenty of highlights, or contemplate what 2018 holds.

Johnson only has eyes on a fourth flag.

“I’d love nothing more than to finish off with a couple of goals in a grand final but there’s a long way to go before that happens,” he said.

“The body’s been battling throughout this season. There’s been games where I’ve played decent footy then I’ve had to take a week off.

“It’s been a bit of a grind.

“Two days after a game, some of these kids are running around full pace and I’m looking at them and just can’t believe it’s even possible.”

But the No.24 pick from the 2001 draft has no regrets about signing for a 16th season.

“I’m really glad I have… I knew it was going to be tough,” he said.

“I feel very content that I’ll be leaving the game with nothing left in the tank.”

He has been limited to 15 goals from 14 games in 2017.

“We want to have the ultimate success and I want to be a part of that,” Johnson said.

His two former Geelong coaches, Chris Scott and Mark Thompson, both hailed the retiring AFL champion as a master of invention and one of the league’s wiliest players.

The fan-favourite wasn’t offered a new deal by Scott at the end of 2015 and joined Greater Western Sydney for a two-season swansong.

But Scott is adamant it didn’t change the amount of love from both him or the club.

“He’s one of our favourites,” Scott said today.

“Over the history of the game, when you talk about players with wily tricks he’s certainly in the conversation around the best.

“Watching him recently, he’s not as good physically as he was in his prime but he might be a bit smarter than he was in his prime.

“It’s amazing when you are a little bit limited how much you need to rely on those wily little tricks.”

Thompson coached Johnson at Geelong from the forward’s 2002 debut until 2010.

“I love Stevie,” Thompson told Fox Sports’ AFL360 last night.

“I love people who could do things that other people couldn’t do and they did it on a regular occurrence.

“Stevie was certainly one of them.

“He could mess up as good as any of them, but he could play the best footy on the ground.”

Scott said he grew to understand the depth of love from the Cats faithful for the goalsneak.

“For all the people that loved him on-field, there’s probably just as much off-field love from those who like a little bit of a cunning streak in the personality,” he said.

-AAP

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