AYNE JOHNSTON played in four VFL/AFL premierships with Carlton between 1979 and 1990. He also captained the club, won two best-and fairest-awards and was named on a half-forward flank in the Blues’ Team of the Century. On the field, Johnston was fearless, brutal, unrelenting; off it, he played just as hard, earning himself the nickname “The Dominator”. And he prided himself on performing on the game’s biggest stage: the grand final.
“I had a fear of failing in big games. If you failed in a big game, you probably weren’t going to get another chance to play another one. I was lucky to have played in big games before I got to Carlton. I played in five grand finals with Wandin, then another one with VFA club, Prahran. In that 1978 VFA Grand Final, I had a good game and kicked four goals, in front of almost 30,000 people.
“Then I lobbed at Carlton in 1979, and we played in front of about 112,000 people. The noise was like a sonic boom that day. It was a wet Grand Final, and people forget this, but it took us 50 minutes to kick a goal! They don’t realise how tough that was to come back and kick five goals in eight minutes. I suppose people like myself, along with wingman Peter Francis, kept us in the game when we were struggling.
“I was actually out at a nightclub before the ’79 Grand Final, but I didn’t have a drink. I went out, then went home and watched the footy marathon on Channel Seven. Jezza [coach Alex Jesaulenko] didn’t care about any curfew. And they gave me their best player award for the day, so I can’t have gone too bad!
“The 1981 Grand Final was not a good game, even though we won. We were 22 points down before threequarter time, and we kicked a couple of late goals. Then, their coach Tom Hafey brought Graeme Allan out to inspire his players – I had broken his jaw earlier in the game. They reckon a lot of blokes felt sick aerwards. I’d come back late in the season, having missed ten games with a knee injury, and I contributed as best I could that day.
“The following year, Richmond were threes-on favourites to beat us, aer belting us in the second semi- final. I was going through my own plan before the game, and Mark Maclure came over and said, ‘What you do you think?’ I said, ‘We need to get off to a flyer.’ He said, ‘I don’t think we can beat them.’
“I suppose, outside of 1981, I started us off in each of our victories by geing the first kick, or seing up a goal, or wiping out a player. Laurie Hayden was our ‘shrink’ in 1981 and ’82. He psychoanalysed me and came to the conclusion that I saw the game in slow motion when I was up and going. He thought that I had to be heightened pre-game in order to perform. Pumping myself up before a game was me understanding what the game plan was and what my job was. “I didn’t mind hurting people. If you take out an opponent, fairly, and it hurts them, it helps your team. When I hit ‘Dipper’ in ’87, not one Hawthorn person came near me, the same with Allan in ’81. It doesn’t make me tough, but I expected somebody to come and remonstrate with me. I think they saw something they didn’t want to see.
“I was the only one from 1979 who played in all four premierships. In 1979, ’82 and ’87 the club gave me their best player in the Grand Final, and my mates dig me all the time and say I should have won three Norm Smith Medals! I guess in 1982, that was the one where we needed to start well, which I helped us to do. Then I took Maurice Rioli out of the game, yet he won the bloody medal? I did my job that day, so I must have been a chance to win it.
“I have no regrets though. I was a full-on, aacking player, but I wasn’t a dirty player; I was just hard. The only one that was out of line was the Allan hit. He had been holding me, the umpires weren’t paying the free kicks, so I told him if he did it again I’d belt him. And I did.”
“I didn’t mind hurting people. If you take out an opponent, fairly, and it hurts them, it helps your team.”
The media swamps Johnson after Carlton's 1987 grand final win.