ON SUNDAY the Casey Demons VFLW side celebrates an important achievement in the Club’s history, the side’s first 50-game player, and for the milestone woman Alicia Johnson, the honour isn’t lost on her.
“It is a pretty special honour to me,” Johnson told Melbourne Media.
“I didn’t even realise until the start of the season and looked at the game count and realised I was up there.
“It has come around really quickly, but it is a really special achievement.”
After almost a decade in the sport, it has been a journey for Alicia to get to this point in her football story.
Originally hailing from Queensland, Johnson took up the sport she loves in 2009, but she quickly learned the sport was going to be different to lanes of the swimming pool where she excelled as a junior swimmer.
“I was never allowed to play footy, I grew up as a swimmer,” Johnson recalls.
“Mum wouldn’t let me play growing up [as a junior], because she was like, ‘you’ll get hurt’.
“I started playing in 2009, but I then did my ACL... I thought ‘I am never going to play footy again, that’s it I’m done’.
“But after I moved down to Victoria, I got the itch to play again.”
Re-joining the sport after five years away, Johnson joined the Cranbourne Football Club women’s team in Division 1 of the Victorian Women’s Football League in 2015.
Adding Johnson’s skills to a formidable Eagles side, which included current co-captain Bianca Jakobsson and Western Bulldogs AFLW player Hayley Wildes, saw the team have a spectacular regular season and go on to win the premiership, a great experience for Johnson.
“We won the premiership that year which was pretty cool,” Johnson said.
“Then the following year the VFLW was formed.
“Cranbourne got bumped up into the VFLW competition, so I played two seasons with the Eagles.”
Staying with the Eagles through their league promotion, Johnson got to experience the standard of the VFLW first-hand, but while Johnson was starring on the field, changes were occurring behind the scenes for the league which saw Cranbourne lose its playing license, and a new club, the Casey Demons, enter the fold.
After a phone call with Melbourne AFLW-list manager Todd Patterson, Johnson put down the Cranbourne gold and blue and picked up the red and blue of the Demons starting the next phase of her journey.
“I got a phone call from Todd Patterson in late 2017,” Johnson said.
“He said that they would like to put me on the Demons list, so I went down and signed up.
“It has been an unbelievable experience.”
Joining the side at its inception, Johnson remembers while her initial feelings of bashfulness at becoming a member of the talented Demons list.
“Even starting there last year, I was a bit starstruck,” Johnson said laughingly.
“Playing with these players who are on Melbourne’s list.
“I had played against them at Cranbourne but being around them and training with some high calibre names was cool.”
Fast forward to the second year, and Johnson has become a beloved member of the squad and a leader on the field for the young side, utilising her off-field preparation to enhance her play on the field, something she credits her teammates and the Club for.
“Being around my teammates, you see the whole next standard of elite preparation,” Johnson said.
“You’re training an hour and a half out on the track doing your conditioning.
“Then you are in the gym, and in the ice baths… It is a whole other level of seriousness.”
The commitment to her craft has seen her excel on the field, but this season has given Johnson a different set of challenges which she continues to learn from with every test.
“I love the challenges, there is not one game or team which is the same each week,” Johnson said.
“There have been good learnings which I have taken out of each match.
“Sometimes we have fallen short, under a goal a few times, but we learn.
“For me, I think with this season, I got dropped after Round 2… So, I had to re-focus on my mindset.
“So, then something like 50 games maybe didn’t seem possible.
“But I am now back in the side, so hopefully it can become a reality.”
Johnson speaks with a determination and a resolve which is put on display every time she laces up her boots, a drive that is infectious around her teammates.
Casey fans can see the bonds the team has formed this year on the field, a credit Johnson believes is to the side’s dedication to its team-first environment.
“The team is something we always refer back to in everything we do,” Johnson said.
“Our vision, our training, what we do off of the field in preparation for a game.
“What we can do to play our role and show up for the game… To leave it out on the field for each other, for your teammates.
“It is what I love about football… Having that support network around you.
“People that become like your second family becomes pretty special.”
When she isn’t down at Casey Fields toiling on her love, Johnson enjoys her time away from the field spending it with the other loves of her life.
“Being from Queensland, I love getting down to the beach,” Johnson said.
“I love spending time with my fiancé, Jordan, and our puppy, Wallace.
“I love keeping fit, so I will go down and do F45 at Cranbourne, they are one of my player sponsors… I will go down and do that when my body lets me.”
But for the remaining three games, Johnson’s focus is solely on what she can do to help her team win.
“We have to win our next three game to have a chance to play VFLW finals football,” Johnson said.
“That would be a great experience for the team.
“But I think the biggest thing to come out the final games will be the continuous improvement of players.”
Spoken like a respected trailblazer for our Demons side, it has been a journey for Alicia Johnson, here’s to 50 more games in the red and blue.