Johnston, Redlegs look to take the next step

NORWOOD defender Morgan Johnston has taken many a step along her footballing journey, but there is one in particular that she and her Redlegs teammates are hoping to manage. The Northern Territory native helped her side to minor premiership honours in 2021 and has loved every minute of her southern venture, but says Norwood needs to “put the foot down” when it comes to translating such success into finals results.

“I think footy is 80 per cent mentality,” Johnston said. “If you go into the game thinking ‘oh we could lose this game’ you’re not going in with the right mindset and you’re down straight away. If we go in with a winning attitude, play for one another, have a goal set that we want to finish with that trophy, I think we’re going to go really far this season.

“(We need to) put the foot down all season. “Don’t get confident towards the end and think ‘if we lose we’ve got another go’. “We went into that (semi-final against Glenelg) and I just don’t think we were mentally there, I don’t think every one of us stepped onto the field with our best game. “As the game went on we got better, but it was too far gone, it was out of reach.”

In her second move south after a scrapped VFLW dig with Collingwood in 2020, Johnston has taken the opportunity with aplomb and is thriving among the high standards of state league football. In her maiden campaign, she averaged 11.2 disposals, 3.6 marks and 2.6 rebound 50s en route to Team of the Year honours.

While not every Territory footballer has the opportunity to make the move and pursue their AFLW dreams, Johnston’s seamless transition is a leading example for others to be inspired by. At Norwood alone, Grace Mulvahil and Kaitey Whittaker have signed on in similar moves, and Morgan says plenty more could “star” if given the chance.

“There are so many girls who would love the opportunity to come down here,” she said. “There’s coaches watching so I just tell them ‘keep playing your best footy, put your best foot forward and the opportunity will come’.

“In the Northern Territory we like to run, we’ve got a lot of fast girls up there. “You come down to Victoria or South Australia and the girls are very highly skilled, there’s more participation from girls and the standards are a lot higher. We do play at a high standard in the NTFL, but I don’t think we have the same facilities and opportunities. “There’s so many girls in the NTFL who could come down to these leagues and absolutely tear it up.”

Describing herself as “a bit of a utility”, Morgan has arguably found her best form behind the ball but is willing to play any role for the team. On each line, the 28-year-old’s clean disposal, composure and footy smarts are among the traits which help keep her AFLW dream kicking. Top flight expansion also helps.

“I’m always aiming for (the AFLW),” she said. “I’m not giving up until it happens. “If the opportunity comes, I will take it with both hands and I’ll run with it, and I will not let any club or coach down.

“(My goals are) to find an AFLW club for sure, and win a flag with Norwood because I would love that. “I’ve never won one, I’ve been playing footy for six years now and have come close, but to be with my teammates holding a premiership cup would be amazing.”

There are also improvements to make along the way, with Johnstone outlining the contested side of her game as a key area for growth heading into next season, which starts on the weekend of February 4.

“I definitely want to improve on my physicality,” she said. “Being a bit of a smaller and faster player, I tend to avoid the contact when I can which can have me holding the ball a bit too much. I do get caught eventually when I can’t step four players… that’s what I’m working on, a bit more contested method which we’re doing at training and I make sure I pair with the stronger girls so they can help me along with that.”

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