Fremantle defender Michael Johnson has credited former Dockers coach and Clontarf Foundation founder Gerard Neesham with helping him get back on track after a club-imposed drug suspension threatened to derail his career.
Johnson will play his 150th game in tomorrow's western derby, a goal that seemed out of reach after he was found with cocaine outside a Perth nightspot in 2010.
Having seen his stocks rise significantly under coach Mark Harvey, the father-of-three was brought back to earth by a six-week club suspension.
He said a number of conversations with Neesham, who was a mentor during Johnson's high school years at Clontarf, helped him return and cement his spot at the Dockers.
"I spoke to a few people but Gerard Neesham was one of them, being an ex-Dockers coach and a mentor at the Clontarf footy academy," Johnson said.
"He's always been there to support his students so throughout my career he's only a phone call away. He supports every player, every student who goes through the school.
"We have catch-ups every year, but at that time I just needed someone outside the club and he was there to lend a hand."
Johnson played every game in the 2011 season and was used in a variety of roles, but was told that he only held his spot because of injuries to other players.
It was the arrival of Ross Lyon last year which saw the 28-year-old play the best football of his career as a permanent defender.
Johnson said he was confident that the Dockers' defence, despite the retirement of Adam McPhee, could counter West Coast's forward line featuring a fit-again Mark LeCras and Josh Kennedy.
"I know they're premiership favourites so if we want to play the best teams, round one is the start of the season so we need to match it against the top teams and we need to beat them," he said.
"We have a versatile back line at the moment where we can play on and match it against any forward line in the AFL."The Dockers remain underdogs, but have firmed to $2.03. West Coast are easing $1.79 favourites.
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