Last week I caught up with three-time Brisbane Lions Premiership player Chris Johnson at AFL House.
Danni: To kick off, let’s rewind back to your playing days. During your stellar career you played in three winning premierships. Which premiership win is most precious to you and why?
Chris Johnson: I think the first one would have to be most precious because it’s the first one. Not knowing that you’re able to get to that stage of your football career, in a grand final, so you actually get to something and realize you can do it. So I’d say the first one is the most precious one that I hold close to my heart at this present time.
D: Now for a hard hitting question! Exactly how annoying were Jason Akermanis’ handstands?
CJ: They were great for the crowd, I guess they were annoying in a sense that we always had to wait for him to walk off the ground because we always wanted to leave the ground as one team, but I think for supporters in general, in Queensland to build the game up, I think it was a great aspect of entertainment to bring people to the game.
D: In your playing days, who had an influence on your playing style and attitude?
CJ: I think it came down the coaches around me, number one Leigh Matthews and certainly my father as well, the way he brought me up and taught me how to go about my football in the junior days; how to tinker my game and be a defender and attacking defender at the same time. So I’d have to say those two men, Leigh Matthews and my father were probably the two biggest influences in my football career.
Before Leigh I had the talent and I had all that around me but I just didn’t have the guidance and that’s what Leigh was able to give me.
D: Having had a steady footy career with Brisbane, is there anything you look back at that you would change?
CJ: Again a lot of my answers come from a Leigh Matthews frame of the mind; it doesn’t matter what sort of level you’ve played at, whether you’ve played A Premiership or won Brownlows, you always look back and think I could have done this better, and I could have done that better.
I think going back on hindsight I’d like to do a lot of things different, there a few preseasons I would have liked to try a little bit harder or came to training in a right frame of mind rather than coming a little bit underdone.
You always look back and think yeah I could have done a lot more than I did. People who retire from football always look back and think I should have done this and I should have done that.
D: Who would you say is your favourite teammate that you still keep in contact with?
CJ: There’s a number of guys. Certainly two guys I keep in regular contact with are Martin Pike and Darryl White, they’re two guys that whenever we catch up it’s like we were just with each other yesterday. Those two guys are very good mates of mine and on the phone we’ll catch-up or at a function, but yeah those two guys I’ve kept in contact with quite a bit.
D: You have done a lot of development coaching after footy. Would you consider applying for a senior AFL coaching role?
CJ: Look I’d never say no. Yes I have done a lot of development, first when I retired I started development at Brisbane then I took a role on at Avondale Heights as a coach. I enjoy doing development with kids that are younger, the 16-17s to help them realize what it takes to play elite football and be at the best to give themselves every opportunity.
I wouldn’t count it out, I’d like to give it another go one day and get into the AFL environment, it would be good.
D: If you were to take up a senior role is there a particular club you have your eye on to take over?
CJ: Not in particular, I think whichever club fitted me right, that was able to give me the time that I needed to do my job and then the time to be able to do family things as well out of football. So you have to weigh both up, especially in an AFL environment you have to weigh up what hours you need to do with work and what hours you need to do with family.
D: Do you think the AFL is doing enough to help indigenous players make the transition to AFL life?
CJ: With our programs at the moment, ‘The Flying Boomerangs’ and the ‘Football Men’s Business Program’, those transitions that we give and we teach kids about what it takes to play elite and professional football is certainly the steps in the right direction.
Obviously you can never be satisfied with what you’re doing now because you always have to look to improve, there’s always room for improvement with anything you look at, but I think at the moment they are doing a great job, sorry WE are doing a great job.
We just hope to keep pushing forward and get that 11 percent of AFL football players playing in the competition at the moment, hopefully we can get that up to about 15 percent, that’s our target.
D: So when you say ‘we’, is that your role here at AFL House, the development of young indigenous players?
CJ: Yes that’s one of my roles, talent and engagement coordinator. One is to engage and oversee the talent in the indigenous base and then oversee and engage the talent in the multicultural space as well and then in the mainstream at the AIS with our AIS level one side. So they are my three key roles here at the AFL – indigenous, multicultural and AIS.
D: In your opinion, who is the most underrated player and why?
CJ: Currently, I reckon there’s quite a number of them. You certainly have to look at Ryan O’Keefe. I think as a veteran, so to speak, his ability to be able to rejuvenate himself and get himself into the same form and even win a Norm Smith medal on grand final day; I think that he’s the guy who is certainly underrated.
I think a lot of our older guys that are getting up into their 28-30s, they all get underrated quite a bit. I think they’re the group that looks like they’re being underestimated at the moment.
D: Thoughts on free agency, good or bad for the future of the game?
CJ: I think it’s good for guys that aren’t getting a go at the previous club that they’re at. For guys that are just wanting to play senior football, I think it’s a great opportunity for the guys to move club and get that opportunity, but for people that are looking for a financial benefit or financial gain out of it, I think it’s a very dangerous space that we’re going into in that sort of regard.
If we’re letting players move for a dollar value I think that’s what can kill the game, but if you’ve got guys moving for reasons like just trying to get a go then I think it’s the right path and direction we’re going in.
D: Who is the better coach for Brisbane, Matthews or Voss? And do you think that Voss has the capacity to become as good as Matthews?
CJ: The list that Leigh had was a pretty good list, when he got the list we finished second last and we finished wooden spooners the year before that, so Leigh still had to build up that list as well and that’s the challenge Voss has at the moment.
Leigh has got experience in terms of his coaching and the people he had around him, Voss is an inexperienced coach he’s only into his third year now and he’ll get better and better but I think the ability he’s got is being able to keep the supporters and board onside to get a renewal of his contract.
I think he (Voss) is heading in the right direction but he’s still got a long way to go to get to where Leigh was, but I think he’s doing a great job at the minute with what he’s got.
Obviously the Brendan Fevola thing didn’t work out great for him but other then that they’re going in the right direction, played finals in his first year, dropped away a bit but now they’re coming back up, so I think he’s doing great and the guys around him are doing great as well.