200 of the best for Stevie J
Marvel at the amazing highlight reel of Steve Johnson as he prepares for his 200th game
When I was a kid I wanted to watch as many games of footy as I could. I'd go down to the local footy, I'd be straight home and watch a game of footy on TV
MANY veteran AFL players bemoan the modern footballer's lot, especially the relentless schedule of meetings and rehab sessions.
But you won't hear any of that from Geelong star Steve Johnson.
The mercurial 29-year-old has spent more than a decade at the Cats, yet his passion for the game remains strong as ever.
"I've been through some challenging times throughout my career, but the one thing that drives me is that next game of footy – being able to compete and play at the highest level," Johnson told AFL.com.au.
"I honestly just love the game. When I was a kid I wanted to watch as many games of footy as I could. I'd go down to the local footy, I'd be straight home and watch a game of footy on TV.
"At other times I'd be asking mum and dad if they could take me down to watch Collingwood play, and I was fortunate enough to get to do that quite a bit."
Johnson will play his 200th game when Geelong takes on Richmond at the MCG Saturday night.
For the man known as 'Stevie J', the milestone is extra-special considering the tumult he endured in the early years of his career.
He broke his ankle during a night out following the 2003 season, then he was almost traded to Collingwood shortly after the Cats' disastrous 2006 campaign.
"I'm very lucky that I was able to stay at Geelong, play a small role in a great side, and play with some of the champions of the game, which I also feel extremely fortunate about," Johnson said.
Perhaps Johnson's greatest strength is his ability to differentiate himself from the cliché of the modern 'robot' footballer.
"It's hard to hide my admiration for Steve Johnson, and part of that is probably because I had the misfortune of playing on him a few times in my career," Cats coach Chris Scott said.
"He's really highly regarded within the club and has still managed to retain his individuality and flair as a player.
"Sometimes that means he can be as frustrating as he can be exciting, but I think that all rolled into one mix makes for a pretty exciting player to coach and watch."
Johnson is thankful that his coaches have never tried to curtail his creativity on the field.
"I go out there and try to play within the team structures and the team rules, but I guess I just try to play my natural game as well," he said.
"I think the coach can sometimes live with me doing things that I think I can do, and I think he understands that some decisions I make are not about being a show-pony, but I make them because I think they are going to give the best result for the team.
"Occasionally it doesn't come off and I do look like a bit of a dill, but I think both the coaches over my career have told me to play my natural game.
"And if I do the basics well, then those other things come for me."
These days Johnson is a member of Geelong's player-elected leadership group, which is a clear demonstration of how highly his teammates regard him.
"He can turn a game, and the opposition don't really know what he's up to a lot of the time," fellow three-time premiership player Andrew Mackie said.
"But he listens to what his teammates want from him and he works hard to try and make sure he's doing the right thing for the team.
"And he's a deep thinker. He sits there all night thinking about footy – how he played on the weekend or how he's going to play on the weekend."
Adam McNicol covers Geelong news for AFL.com.au. Follow him on Twitter at @AFL_AdamMcNicol