WHAT started as a COVID scare for Western Australia's top NAB AFL Draft chances in April turned into the confidence boost midfielder Matthew Johnson needed to kickstart his season. 

A teenager with a highly professional attitude, Johnson had set himself the goal of being a top-10 draft pick this year as a way of pushing himself, but a quad injury had set him back. 

Suddenly, on the eve of the AFL Academy match against Geelong's VFL team, he found himself restricted to a hotel room in Victoria waiting for a COVID test because of a coronavirus crisis in his home state. 

"The WA boys got called into this room at about 10pm the night before the game and we were basically told we weren't going to play the next day," Johnson told AFL.com.au

Matthew Johnson kicks the ball under pressure from Quinton Narkle during the match between the NAB AFL Academy and Geelong's VFL side on April 24, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

"Everyone reacted differently and a few of the boys were a bit upset. It felt a bit surreal and I didn't know how to react. 

"We all had to quarantine in the rooms that night and at about 1am in the morning we got COVID tested. We found out the results at about 7am, so we drove down on a separate bus to the rest of the team and eventually got to play."

The weird preparation led to one of the highlights of Johnson's season, getting himself on track with an impressive performance playing alongside the country's best junior footballers. 

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The 192cm midfielder, who models his game on Collingwood champion Scott Pendlebury, got an up-close look at top prospects Nick Daicos and Jason Horne-Francis, and his belief grew from there. 

"In my State 16s carnival I lost a bit of confidence in my footy and my ability, so being able to play alongside a lot of those people who are talked about as the best prospects in Australia was a confidence-boosting thing for me," the North Beach product said. 

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"I looked at them and how they went about it and I saw that I was just as good as them in how I can develop my footy. 

"Being able to match it with those guys gave me confidence, so I took that back to WA and definitely had a lot more belief in my ability. That was one of the big takeaways."

Fellow WA youngsters Neil Erasmus, Jacob van Rooyen, Rhett Bazzo and Jack Williams also played that day, with Johnson rated as the best midfield prospect in a strong WA group.  


With poise, clean hands, elite agility and running power, his full skillset hasn't always been on shown, however, playing across all three grades with Subiaco this season and adjusting to several role changes. 

His standout performances came late in the year with the Lions' reserves, averaging 25 disposals across three weeks, and then in the Grand Final curtain-raiser match between WA and South Australia, earning best afield honours.  

"I couldn't get a lot of consistency in my footy, but as the year progressed I found a bit more consistency and I was super happy with the opportunity I got to play league footy," Johnson said. 

Western Australia's Matthew Johnson evades a tackle from South Australia''s Adam D’Aloia at the NAB AFL U19 Championship on September 25, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

"In the colts I played on the ball, then going up to league I played a hybrid forward role, which was team-orientated and working for the other forwards. 

"In the reserves I started on the wing but worked my way into the midfield and played some of the best footy of my year."

While frustrated at times with the role changes and inconsistent form, Johnson's professional attitude is obvious when he insists the experience would help him in the AFL. 

Self-motivated and organised, the commerce student says he is now taking a backward step before the draft and letting the build-up unfold around him, keeping his mind off what is ahead with study and some landscaping work, laying lawn with his dad and good friend van Rooyen. 

Matthew Johnson has a drink ahead of the 2km time trial at the WA Draft Combine on October 17, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

The 18-year-old, whose style is also compared to classy midfielder Adam Cerra, has spoken to every AFL club now and feels ready for what is ahead.  

"I've prepared myself for an elite environment and AFL footy, and being part of the Subiaco seniors this year and exposed to that high level of footy has definitely helped me," he said.  

"Even at home, if I had to move interstate, I've been taking on more duties like cooking dinner for the family and that. I think I've definitely woken up to what it will look like next year."