List Mgmt. Welcome to West Coast: Ben Johnson

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Capriati

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Aug 25, 2019
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From today's West Australian.




From the roots of a famous WA football family, the feel-good story of this year’s AFL national draft played out in a Joondalup living room with a wave of sadness and a touch of destiny.

The family of West Coast great Dean Cox were huddled together nervously hoping for a new football flag-bearer. Cox’s uncle, 212-game WAFL veteran George Michalczyk, was part of the group of just six waiting for another of his nephews, Ben Johnson, to have his name called out.

A picture of Johnson’s late mother Sandra, who lost her four-year battle with an aggressive melanoma when he was just eight in 2009, was placed by his now step-mother Karen next to the television just before the draft broadcast began.

“She’s our good luck charm, she’s here to look over us,” his father Steve said.

There was barely a dry eye, but the teenager’s draft destiny then hung in the balance with pick after pick passing without mentioning his name.

Every AFL club except North Melbourne had courted him in the lead-up to the draft. He had spoken with Carlton coach David Teague and Fremantle had even sent two of their Melbourne-based recruiters to Perth to interview him.

West Coast recruit Ben Johnson with parents Karen and Steve, right, cousin Ryan Michalczyk and aunt and uncle George and Rita Michalczyk.
West Coast recruit Ben Johnson with parents Karen and Steve, right, cousin Ryan Michalczyk and aunt and uncle George and Rita Michalczyk. Credit: Trevor Collens
“We were predicting he might have gone a little bit earlier, but it didn’t happen and as the picks kept coming out, our morale was going down and down and down,” Mr Johnson explained.

“Once it got through all the 40s we thought, ‘Oh no, what’s happening’. It’s terrible, it’s like a meat market.”

Michalczyk recalled how his nephew had become increasingly “down in the dumps” and the group had all but decided to cancel what they had planned as a celebratory dinner.

Johnson had regularly told his step-mother that he did not need to do any school homework as he was adamant he was going to play for the Eagles. He had once even worn his Eagles guernsey to a primary school assembly and told the crowd the same thing.

Eagles draftee Ben Johnson at school in 2012 in his Eagles jumper after telling the crowd he was going to play for West Coast.
Eagles draftee Ben Johnson at school in 2012 in his Eagles jumper after telling the crowd he was going to play for West Coast. Credit: Supplied
And when all looked lost, a twist of fate came from the club he and his family had long loved.

Soon after West Coast had taken his WA under-18s teammate Callum Jamieson with pick No.49, they did a selection swap with Essendon which landed them No.58. As that pick number loomed, his father was eerily confident the time for his son had come.

“I said to Karen, ‘He’s going to go at 58’,” Mr Johnson recalled. “When the Eagles grabbed 58, I said, ‘Watch this, he’s going’. Then his name was called out.”

Mr Johnson had only just seen Collingwood champion Dane Swan, drafted to the Magpies with selection No.58 in 2001, send a tweet welcoming whoever was taken with that pick “to the club”.

“If ya need some advice on how to make the most of ya career I’m here for you,” Swan tweeted. “58’s gotta stick together.” Ironically, Swan had played alongside another Ben Johnson in Collingwood’s 2010 premiership.

After being drafted, Johnson said he would play every game driven by the memory of his late mother.

“She’s always in the back of my mind,” he said.

“Whatever I’m doing, I’m trying to do it for her. To play AFL, which is my life-long dream, I’m really happy about because I’ve done her proud. I’ve done everything I can to try and make her proud.”

Sandra, a foundation member of West Coast with her husband, had been watching the Eagles’ losing 2005 grand final against Sydney on television in Busselton when she first complained of a dark shadow lowering across her vision. It would later be diagnosed as a melanoma behind her eye and she died, aged 42.

Michalczyk’s wife Rita, one of six sisters along with Sandra, said Johnson’s drafting had given the entire family an emotional boost — particularly their 88-year-old mother and his grandmother, Nina Stefanelli. Rita said hearing Johnson speak of her sister after he was drafted added a special touch.

“It floored me,” she said.

Copy pic of new West Coast Eagles recruit Ben Johnson's late mother Sandra Johnson.
Copy pic of new West Coast Eagles recruit Ben Johnson's late mother Sandra Johnson. Credit: supplied by family.
Ben’s uncle, George Michalczyk in 1983.
Ben’s uncle, George Michalczyk in 1983. Credit: The West Australian
“We speak about Sandy, but you don’t really know how the kids are dealing with it. I’m blown away to think that every time he goes onto a football field he’ll want to do her proud. It’s amazing and means so much.

“When his name was called out, we all jumped and screamed at the same time and just pounced onto Ben. We grabbed him and hugged him and cried happy tears.”

Michalczyk said he had sent a text message of thanks to West Coast chief executive Trevor Nisbett for rekindling the family’s close connection with the club following Cox’s retirement at the end of 2014.

“We’re overwhelmed with the opportunity to reconnect with the club in the way we did with Dean,” he said. “I’ve been watching Ben since he was in juniors and when you’ve got family out there, you just feel a part of everything that’s going on with the team.”

Eagles draftee Ben Johnson on his 10th birthday in 2011 with Dean Cox and wife Kerry.
Eagles draftee Ben Johnson on his 10th birthday in 2011 with Dean Cox and wife Kerry. Credit: Supplied
Johnson’s older sister Tayla recently became a chiropractor. His older brother Matt set the WAFL alight with six goals on debut against East Perth in 2013.

Their father believes their relentless pursuit together for kicking excellence while growing up on the streets of Whitfords had given them both great skill by foot.

After a congratulatory phone call from coach Adam Simpson after his drafting, Johnson immediately received a similar text of welcome from new teammate Nic Naitanui and also received a supportive message from Cox, who he had watched and cheered for during his childhood.

“This is my home club ... I’ve always gone for them since I’ve supported footy,” Johnson said. “To stay at home with my family and all my friends and everyone around here, it’s just a dream come true.”

Cox’s mother Mary had also sent Mr Johnson a message of congratulations saying the draft news had left her in tears. He said the feeling was still surreal.

“It’s ecstasy, I’m not really sure how to explain it,” Mr Johnson said before watching his son train with the Eagles for the first time this week.

“After what we went through with Sandy and going through school, to having his name called out on an AFL list ... it’s all just a blur. I’ve been a member since day dot and it still doesn’t feel real. He’s my little baby boy and the smile on my face will be there for a while yet.”
 

kane249

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He had spoken with Carlton coach David Teague and Fremantle had even sent two of their Melbourne-based recruiters to Perth to interview him.
So Fremantle, a Perth based team, sent two recruiters over from Melbourne to interview someone in Perth?

Do they not have anyone based locally willing to drive half an hour to go meet him?
 
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Chris_6678

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Oct 29, 2007
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So Fremantle, a Perth based team, sent two recruiters over from Melbourne to interview someone in Perth?

Do they not have anyone based locally willing to drive half an hour to go meet him?
To be fair be quicker then getting through traffic from cockburn.
 

Coasters7

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So Fremantle, a Perth based team, sent two recruiters over from Melbourne to interview someone in Perth?

Do they not have anyone based locally willing to drive half an hour to go meet him?
And then we trade up to steal him from them anyway. ******* lol
 

mattyc75

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Hadnt seen any highlights of him before the draft. After watching some he seems perfect for the jetta role coming out of the backline.possibly a move up onto a wing too

Sent from my SM-G973F using Tapatalk
 

Avalor

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So BJ is related to Cox

Who knew?
Ben comes from good Royal stock. George Michalczyk - what a player he was. I used to watch him play for East Perth back in the day. The Michalczyks (brothers IIRC) we're stars in a golden era for EP and the state team.
We could have a beauty in Ben.
 

Monocle

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Boys club back at it again.


Sack Nesbitt.
If the Boys Club delivers us another player thats as good a footballer as Dean Cox or either of the Michalczyk brothers.

Then I am all in on the move.

Also it pleases my sick, vindictive, warped mind no end of pleasure knowing that we traded up to get in front of The Cockburners 💩 to be able to steal away their next target. :)
 

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