AFL U19s Player Focus: Matthew Johnson (Western Australia)
SUBIACO midfielder Matthew Johnson is rising in stocks once again after being named best afield in Western Australia’s thrilling Under 19 championships win over South Australia. With a wealth of starting midfielders unavailable, the 192cm talent stepped up in state colours to contribute 21 disposals, five clearances, and the match-winning goal assist. Having featured across all three WAFL grades this season, Johnson recently struck a rich vein of form at Reserves level where he played four consecutive games before returning to state duties. With wonderful poise in possession and clean hands, he has plenty of upside as a tall ball winner. We put the West Australian’s weekend performance under the Player Focus microscope, breaking down his game quarter-by-quarter.
Matthew Johnson Subiaco/Western Australia
DOB: 16/03/2003 Height: 192cm Weight: 82kg
Strengths: Poise, clean disposal, upside
League: 3 games | 6.7 disposals | 1.3 marks | 3.7 tackles | 1.3 inside 50s | 0 goals
Reserves: 4 games | 20.5 disposals | 6.3 marks | 2.8 tackles | 3.5 inside 50s | 0.3 goals (1 total)
Colts: 6 games | 21.3 disposals | 4.2 marks | 5.7 tackles | 4.7 inside 50s | 0.5 goals (3 total)
2021 AFL U19 National Championships | Western Australia 8.11 (59) def. South Australia 8.6 (54)
#23 Matthew Johnson (Western Australia)
Johnson was a steady starter despite his side’s early dominance, featuring at the centre bounces alongside East Perth pair Kade Dittmar and James Tunstill. With the pressure gauge at a high, he had to lean on all his poise and size to be effective among the midfield madness. He notched a couple of quick handballs before being rotated during the middle part of the quarter, showing clean handling and sound decision making. He was able to release runners on both the inside and outside, distributing from congestion or as a link in transition. After a quiet patch, Johnson came to life late in the term with a couple of attempts on goal. He was squeezed on his first shot which trickled into the behind post, but earned a chance at the resultant throw-in, snatching the ball off hands but missing his snap at the big sticks.
The second quarter saw the most centre bounces of the match (seven), with Johnson attending five and winning the ball at a couple. While South Australia’s Mani Liddy beat him to the ball early, Johnson won his first touch with a high free kick, before kicking short further along the corridor. The kick was effective as expected. He had to use a bit of strength with his next couple of disposals; receiving inside attacking 50 but struggling to dish the ball over the top under tackling pressure, and then gathering cleanly at a stoppage on the wing where he got his hands free to distribute while absorbing contact. Johnson ended up with just shy of a handful of disposals for the second term and most came via hand, with the final one an uncharacteristic turnover. He had some almost moments at the centre bounces, seeing the ball bounce harshly the other way as he went to gather half-volleys or off the deck. That would soon change.
With Western Australia ahead but their Southern counterparts sticking around, Johnson was one who stepped up in the second half to help deliver his side the desired result. He began to find more ball around the ground, looking classy in most instances despite the constant pressure. While unable to explode or dance out of congestion, Johnson’s one-grab handling made life a little easier when navigating the inside. On the outside, he began to take more metres and release longer by hand, again getting involved in chains of possessions as others moved around him. Johnson notched up another handful of possessions and had a say on proceedings in the third term, even if the going was tough. It set him up for a big finish with things getting tense.
Johnson’s first contribution in term four was a hard one to forget as he produced a Globetrotter kind of move on the end of a running foray. After taking a bounce on the exit of a stoppage, Johnson ended up controlling the ball around his back before shooting a handball off. His team-lifting output from the middle was evident, attending five of the six centre bounces and winning one particularly clean clearance off the tap. He laid a couple of hard tackles too, with one seeing Liddy retaliate and give away a free kick inside 50. With the resultant kick, Johnson hit the post from 40 metres out, but would later have another say on the final score. Trailing by a point in the dying seconds, WA broke into the attacking arc and Johnson snuck forward unmanned – sharking a loose ball before fending an opponent and handballing to Jacob Van Rooyen for the match-winning goal. Capping a terrific performance on the right note, Johnson again boosted his draft stocks having gained a level of consistency in the Reserves grade prior to this outing. He remains a chance of achieving top 15 honours, and is a very classy tall midfielder with great upside.
Featured Image: WA’s Matthew Johnson with his best afield medal | Credit: AFL Photos