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International Rules – A week to remember

This article was originally published on Steve Johnson’s official website, which can be accessed here.

A week ago I was very privileged to get the opportunity to play in the International Rules Series against Ireland.

Months ago I wrote about my ambition to represent our great code of Australian Rules Football but also the opportunity to represent the country.

Not knowing exactly what to expect given the last couple of series hadn’t worked out as well, partly because of player availability but also from a spectacle point of view because the matches hadn’t been that great a contest between the teams which made it worth watching… which it once was!

Being an avid football follower who loves hearing about the history of the game, I remembered hearing time and time again that when the players have a chance of representing Australia in this format they considered it one of the great moments of their career, developing lifelong friendships and memories.

As the game got closer it was clear to me the AFL and Mark Evans in particular had made a concerted effort to reach out to the players to give this series the respect it deserved. One last big effort to regain its significance  as an opportunity AFL should strive to play at some stage throughout their career.

Walking into the Virgin lounge before heading to Sydney, it all became real.

As I walk to the desk I have a quick glimpse towards the right side of the lounge and see a table with the likes of Nick Riewoldt, Jobe Watson, Luke Hodge and Dustin Fletcher, they were talking to Alistair Clarkson.

I think oh god, I can’t waltz in there and just strike up a conversation, I wouldn’t event know what to say.

So I turn left and gather my thoughts, I’ll get a toasted sandwich and pretend I haven’t seen them, until someone walks past me and breaks the ice and tells me to come join them.

Within a couple of minutes I get a tap on the shoulder from Mark Evans and then moments later a handshake comes from Alistair Clarkson, which seems weird as he is the bloke normally plotting my downfall and someone I consider a fierce rival even though he isn’t out on the ground competing against me.

Within a few minutes I was over meeting the boys and my initial feeling was that while some of us have our differences on match day we are here as teammates and we are going to enjoy the next week together.

Later that day the full squad all meet in Sydney where we have a training session together and then a nice meal down by the water in Manly, followed by a few beers to get to know each other a bit better. I don’t think there is a better way to develop relationships than over a few drinks, from that point on I think the group gelled very quickly.

The week of the game consisted of training and a practice match out at the new GWS training facilities. From the Tuesday night we all stayed at Crown in Perth, where we were treated to some amazing accommodation, which apart from a little hiccup where nine of us were stuck in a lift for  25-30 minutes was very, very enjoyable.

As the game got closer and meetings were happening every day, it’s fair to say I actually looked forward to these, as we had the chance to listen to two of the very best coaches in the completion in Clarkson and Ross Lyon – along with my own coach Chris Scott. I knew by their preparation and delivery that this was a ‘win at all costs’ mentality for the Australian team.

Game day quickly came around; this was very exciting as I have always wanted to have a go at the Gaelic game, having watched many encounters between Ireland and Australia in years gone by. It was also an opportunity to watch other players and see how they prepare, how they deal with the anxiety of a big game, and what it might be that makes them all great players.

I couldn’t have been happier with my teammates; it felt like were a close knit team as a result of everyone getting along really well all week. It could have been a chance for each player to pump their chest out and see who the biggest dog was but in reality it was a sense of commitment, leaving egos aside and going out to represent our country with passion and selflessness.

A video shared by Alistair before the game gave us a good indication of what he needed from us – it basically gave us the reminder that no matter how talented we are as players it means nothing unless each individual is prepared to do what it takes to make the team a better team.

As we went out onto the ground I am sure we all felt the same thing.. Pretty pumped! Looking around at the players in the huddle and knowing that if everyone has the same mindset we shouldn’t have to worry about the results at the end of the day, clearly they would look after themselves.

‘I wish I had the chance to be part of the experience much earlier than I did, but I’m so grateful the chance came around at long last.’

The National Anthem took place and it was a great feeling, I definitely felt a sense of pride in the jumper and the crowd was already eager to get the game underway.

The game started and with Nic Nat down to Selwood it was a pretty impressive opening few seconds. To share a forward line with Riewoldt, Wingard, Gray, Harvey, Dangerfield and Breust was incredible. I could go on all day about the guys down the field that we had delivering the ball into us – even though it was a foreign round ball for most of us, our ball use was extremely good.

I feel privileged to have had the chance to play with every one of the players that took the field and must admit I had little expectation of becoming close with any of the players, but I now feel as if I have developed some pretty good friendships from the experience.

We are all competitors and all have a hunger for success but to win the game the way we did, and also put some faith back into this series, made the victory that much sweeter and added to the post match celebrations! My respect has gone up for many of the players and personnel involved with the week and I hope this sets a standard for the future of representing our code and our country, even though it is a hybrid format of our game.

Sure, there is a risk of injury, which has been well documented in the past, but the upside is also enormous. I’m sure the young guns of the competition that were selected to play would have taken some invaluable tools from being around such an elite group for a week and will only benefit from the experience.

I wish I had the chance to be part of the experience much earlier than I did, but I’m so grateful the chance came around at long last.

Thanks to everyone involved and I can only hope I get another opportunity like this again next year! Thanks again to those who helped bring the week together – I’m sure everyone had as much fun as I did.

Well done boys.


This article was originally published on Steve Johnson’s official website, which can be accessed here.