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How Stevie J changed the off-field game

Illustration: Mick Connolly

Illustration: Mick Connolly

Just as his boyhood idol Peter Daicos popularised the art of the dribbled goal from acute angles, the artist known as Stevie J has changed the way many players take set shots from the boundary.

But Steve Johnson's more telling contribution to the game has been in the impact of his career story - of a gifted rogue who received tough love from his peers and club, and became a champion.

More than seven years have passed since Stevie got pissed with a mate in Wangaratta, fell asleep in the wrong house, was locked up and then forced into exile - from both his team and alcohol - as part of his five-week suspension. No one suspected it then, but the way Geelong handled the wayward Stevie and his immediate redemption have been even more influential on the competition than the ''J-Hook'' - the Johnson-patented kick across the body from a set shot.

Johnson's transformation was dramatic. Months earlier, the Cats had been willing to ship their errant genius to Collingwood, which famously baulked on a trade because of an adverse medical report on Stevie's dodgy ankle - which, fittingly, had been hurt once when an intoxicated Stevie fell badly climbing over a fence at a Torquay pub.

No sooner had Tom Harley and his leadership group peers handed down the sentence to Johnson, than Stevie swore off the grog for the season, knuckled down and won the Norm Smith Medal. He morphed into the Geelong era's answer to Daicos, and - in another twist - shifted to the midfield, where his high footy IQ and skill made him even more productive and provided a larger canvas to express his impressionistic art.

The potency of Johnson's story is such that Geelong's handling of Stevie quickly turned into a template for all other clubs to follow. It remains so. On Friday, when the infant Giants were suspending Toby Greene for his part in what was a much more serious incident, involving a raft of assault charges at a Caulfield bar, the Johnson precedent was cited.

The Greene sentence - five weeks - was the same as Stevie's. But whereas Johnson accepted his punishment, Greene and his management - with the player union in their corner - are fighting the severity of it. This is a rarity. The Greene camp believes the suspension is excessive if the club really is suspending him for drinking while injured and failing to report a serious incident, arguing that ''breaching protocols'' is a two-weeker at worst.

Ever since Stevie's U-turn early in 2007, almost every club has had to deal with a drunken rampage, punch-up or worse, and as a result of the outlandish success enjoyed by both Johnson and Geelong, the five-week sentence is the major reference point.

Geelong was mindful of Stevie when it suspended Mathew Stokes when the midfielder/forward was charged with a drug offence back in the summer of 2009-2010. Stokes, who had his drug charge downgraded from trafficking to possession, received seven weeks suspension from the club. The Cats acted before he faced the court.

Jesse Stringer was suspended for the remaining half of Geelong's 2012 season following an arrest for a domestic violence incident. To some with a civil liberties bent, the Cats had entered troubled waters, because Stringer hadn't even been charged at the time. Unlike Johnson and Stokes, Stringer hasn't really flourished after his crime and punishment. Perhaps that's a measure of talent, not the efficacy of the approach.

As the years and incidents rolled on, clubs were forced to make snap judgments on whether to suspend a player following an indiscretion that could or would land them in court. The shadow of Stevie J hung over many of these situations. More often than not, the Johnson game plan of tough love has been followed.

Geelong's long-serving president Frank Costa, who said he was ''privileged'' to be in the room when Harley announced Stevie's fateful suspension, reckoned Johnson's was the moment, more than any other, that shaped the change in Geelong's player culture. ''It was the big one.''

Costa agreed that Stevie J's situation had been heavily influential simply ''because Geelong has been successful''. He said the decision, while made by the newly empowered players, was very much a joint production with the administration.

Who should make these calls when a player finds the divvy van or the court room? And when should the club verdict be delivered?

The Stephen Milne case of last year exposed the limitations of a player-based policing system. When Milne was belatedly charged with rape, the club was caught. St Kilda had been afflicted with issues surrounding treatment of women, having seen Andrew Lovett's rape accusation (he was charged after the club sacked him, then later cleared) in early 2010 and the messy affair involving a schoolgirl. But whereas the Saints players had taken a negative view of Lovett's behaviour, their investment in Milne was such that they did not want him suspended.

The players and the club administration were at odds over Milne. The Saints were commercially vulnerable, due to the string of unsavoury incidents, and at the mercy of headquarters. Their internal ambivalence was reflected in the stance taken - Milne was stood down for a brief period following his charge, but allowed to return within a few weeks. The club straddled the players and everyone else.

Marley Williams' conviction for causing grievous bodily harm provided an alternative model. The difference was that Collingwood did not stand the miscreant down until he was convicted. As some who've administered clubs observed, Collingwood's financial might and power affords it the luxury of making decisions without worrying about sponsor revolts.

The Stevie J template, followed for several years, works better when the charge isn't serious, but the behaviour clearly needs correction. If a charge is really serious, as with Milne or even Williams, and potentially Greene, the club has to consider the legal minefield. One club chief executive posed the question of what would happen if a player was encouraged to be honest to the leadership group, confessed all to teammates, and they were called as witnesses?

Greene, whose behaviour warrants a suspension, is taking the brave step of challenging his club. We assume Greene and his manager, Paul Connors, think he can find another club if necessary. The Giants reckon Greene and/or his manager are thumbing nostrils at fellow players. That's an exaggeration, because, in reality, we know that a green leadership group and young team really take their cues from the club bosses, and the club is following the AFL script.

It's a script written by Stevie J and Geelong.

AFL 2015

Round 1
Thu, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
CAR 78 vs RIC 105 19:20MCG
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
MEL 115 vs GCF 89 13:40MCG
SYD 72 vs ESS 60 16:35ANZ
BRI 74 vs COL 86 19:20G
WBU 97 vs WCE 87 19:20ES
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 78 vs GWS 87 13:10ES
ADE 140 vs NTH 63 15:20Adelaide Oval
FRE 75 vs PTA 68 18:40Domain Stadium
Mon, 06 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 123 vs GEE 61 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
WCE 131 vs CAR 62 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 66 vs WBU 85 13:45MCG
GWS 101 vs MEL 56 14:10SO
COL 63 vs ADE 90 16:35ES
GCF 76 vs STK 104 19:20MS
PTA 44 vs SYD 92 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
GEE 60 vs FRE 104 13:10SS
ESS 78 vs HAW 76 15:20MCG
NTH 133 vs BRI 51 16:40ES
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Round 3
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
COL 140 vs STK 66 19:50MCG
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
CAR 84 vs ESS 105 13:45MCG
ADE 80 vs MEL 55 14:10Adelaide Oval
SYD 111 vs GWS 90 16:35SCG
NTH 105 vs PTA 113 19:20ES
BRI 58 vs RIC 137 19:20G
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 127 vs WBU 57 13:10AS
GEE 105 vs GCF 96 15:20SS
WCE 81 vs FRE 111 16:40Domain Stadium
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Round 4
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC vs MEL 19:50MCG
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
STK vs CAR 11:10NZ
ESS vs COL 14:40MCG
GWS vs GCF 17:40SO
PTA vs HAW 19:40Adelaide Oval
FRE vs SYD 20:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI vs WCE 13:10G
GEE vs NTH 15:20SS
WBU vs ADE 16:40ES
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Round 5
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs COL 19:50MCG
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC vs GEE 13:45MCG
SYD vs WBU 14:10SCG
GCF vs BRI 16:35MS
NTH vs HAW 19:20ES
WCE vs GWS 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL vs FRE 13:10MCG
STK vs ESS 15:20ES
ADE vs PTA 16:40Adelaide Oval
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Round 6
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
COL vs GEE 19:50MCG
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
NTH vs RIC 13:45BA
WBU vs STK 14:10ES
GWS vs HAW 16:35Spotless Stadium
GCF vs ADE 17:10MS
MEL vs SYD 19:20MCG
FRE vs ESS 20:10Domain Stadium
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs BRI 15:20ES
PTA vs WCE 16:40Adelaide Oval
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Round 7
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS vs NTH 19:50ES
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE vs STK 13:45Adelaide Oval
HAW vs MEL 14:10MCG
CAR vs GWS 16:35ES
SYD vs GEE 19:20ANZ
WCE vs GCF 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
WBU vs FRE 13:10ES
RIC vs COL 15:20MCG
BRI vs PTA 16:40G
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Round 8
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
GEE vs CAR 19:50ES
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
STK vs WCE 13:45ES
GWS vs ADE 14:10Spotless Stadium
GCF vs COL 16:35MS
HAW vs SYD 19:20MCG
FRE vs NTH 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS vs BRI 13:10ES
MEL vs WBU 15:20MCG
PTA vs RIC 16:40Adelaide Oval
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Round 9
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD vs CAR 19:50SCG
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW vs GCF 13:45AS
MEL vs PTA 14:10TIO Traeger Park
WBU vs GWS 16:35ES
RIC vs ESS 19:20MCG
ADE vs FRE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs STK 13:10G
COL vs NTH 15:20MCG
WCE vs GEE 16:40Domain Stadium
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Round 10
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE vs RIC 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs ADE 13:40MCG
GCF vs SYD 16:35MS
ESS vs GEE 19:20ES
PTA vs WBU 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
GWS vs BRI 13:10Spotless Stadium
NTH vs WCE 15:20BA
STK vs HAW 16:40ES
Mon, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL vs COL 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
PTA vs GEE 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
GCF vs FRE 13:40MS
WCE vs ESS 16:35Domain Stadium
NTH vs SYD 19:20ES
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs GWS 13:10MCG
STK vs MEL 16:40ES
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Round 12
Thu, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
ADE vs HAW 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC vs WCE 19:50MCG
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs PTA 13:40MCG
GWS vs NTH 16:35Spotless Stadium
WBU vs BRI 19:20ES
Sun, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
GEE vs MEL 15:20SS
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Thu, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE vs COL 20:10Domain Stadium
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD vs RIC 19:50SCG
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs ESS 13:40MCG
BRI vs ADE 16:35G
STK vs WBU 19:20ES
Sun, 28 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs GCF 15:20ES
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Thu, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs PTA 19:20SCG
Fri, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
COL vs HAW 19:50MCG
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs GWS 13:40MCG
GCF vs NTH 16:35MS
WBU vs CAR 19:20ES
MEL vs WCE 19:40TIO
Sun, 05 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs STK 13:10ES
ADE vs GEE 15:20Adelaide Oval
FRE vs BRI 16:40Domain Stadium
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Round 15
Thu, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs COL 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs CAR 19:50MCG
Sat, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs MEL 13:40MCG
WBU vs GCF 16:35CAZ
NTH vs GEE 19:20ES
WCE vs ADE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 12 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs STK 13:10Spotless Stadium
HAW vs FRE 15:20AS
BRI vs SYD 16:40G
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Round 16
Fri, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
NTH vs ESS 19:50ES
Sat, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs WBU 13:45SS
GCF vs GWS 14:10MS
COL vs WCE 16:35ES
SYD vs HAW 19:20ANZ
FRE vs CAR 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 19 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs BRI 13:10MCG
PTA vs ADE 15:20Adelaide Oval
STK vs RIC 16:40ES
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Round 17
Fri, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs GEE 13:45SO
ADE vs GCF 14:10Adelaide Oval
RIC vs FRE 16:35MCG
ESS vs PTA 19:20ES
BRI vs NTH 19:20G
Sun, 26 JulTimes shown AEST
WBU vs COL 13:10ES
MEL vs STK 15:20MCG
WCE vs SYD 16:40Domain Stadium
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Round 18
Fri, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
HAW vs RIC 19:50MCG
Sat, 01 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE vs BRI 13:45SS
COL vs MEL 14:10MCG
SYD vs ADE 16:35SCG
CAR vs NTH 19:20ES
GCF vs WCE 19:20MS
Sun, 02 AugTimes shown AEST
PTA vs STK 13:10Adelaide Oval
ESS vs WBU 15:20ES
FRE vs GWS 16:40Domain Stadium
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Round 19
Fri, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE vs RIC 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
COL vs CAR 13:45MCG
WBU vs PTA 14:10ES
BRI vs GCF 16:35G
GEE vs SYD 19:20SS
WCE vs HAW 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
MEL vs NTH 13:10MCG
GWS vs ESS 15:20Spotless Stadium
STK vs FRE 16:40ES
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Round 20
Fri, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD vs COL 19:50SCG
Sat, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
ESS vs ADE 13:45ES
NTH vs STK 14:10BA
PTA vs GWS 16:35Adelaide Oval
GEE vs HAW 19:20MCG
BRI vs CAR 19:20G
Sun, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC vs GCF 13:10MCG
WBU vs MEL 15:20ES
FRE vs WCE 16:40Domain Stadium
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Round 21
Fri, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
HAW vs PTA 19:50ES
Sat, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
COL vs RIC 13:45MCG
GWS vs SYD 14:10Spotless Stadium
GCF vs ESS 16:35MS
STK vs GEE 19:20ES
ADE vs BRI 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH vs FRE 13:10ES
CAR vs MEL 15:20MCG
WCE vs WBU 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 28 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE vs COL 19:50MCG
Sat, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
GWS vs CAR 13:45Spotless Stadium
HAW vs BRI 14:10AS
NTH vs WBU 16:35ES
ESS vs RIC 19:20MCG
GCF vs PTA 19:20MS
Sun, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE vs WCE 13:10Adelaide Oval
STK vs SYD 15:20ES
FRE vs MEL 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Fri, 04 SepTimes shown AEST
COL vs ESS 00:00MCG
RIC vs NTH 00:00ES
HAW vs CAR 00:00MCG
GEE vs ADE 00:00SS
SYD vs GCF 00:00SCG
MEL vs GWS 00:00ES
BRI vs WBU 00:00G
PTA vs FRE 00:30Adelaide Oval
WCE vs STK 02:00Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Adelaide Crows 3 3 0 0 171.27 12
Sydney Swans 3 3 0 0 141.75 12
Fremantle 3 3 0 0 138.76 12
Hawthorn 3 2 1 0 166.33 8
Richmond 3 2 1 0 139.37 8
Collingwood 3 2 1 0 125.65 8
GWS Giants 3 2 1 0 113.47 8
Essendon 3 2 1 0 104.74 8
View all
 
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