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Fremantle will farewell a club legend on Saturday at Optus Stadium when Michael Johnson plays his final AFL game against Collingwood.
Johnson compared Fremantle to a second family in an emotional farewell and said he made the decision to retire early in the season.
“It’s hard to say but my time is up at Fremantle,” Johnson said.
“I’ve spent a lot of gruelling years training and working hard with the purple and white on.
“I’ve known for a while that it’s best for me to move on and allow the young players on the list to get more games and more minutes.
“I feel I’ve left a good legacy for this playing group and for this club, so I’m excited and I can’t wait for my next chapter.”
Johnson will finish his career on 244 career games, the most by an Indigenous player and fittingly, an equal fourth-most for the club alongside fellow legendary defender Luke McPharlin.
Johnson and McPharlin formed a formidable pairing as the lynchpins of a backline at Fremantle that was feared around the AFL for a number of years, particularly during the 2013 season when Fremantle made the Grand Final.
The same backline also featured Lee Spurr, who announced his retirement from Fremantle earlier this month.
Johnson said he knew at the time that he was a part of something special and that he can also see similar signs in the club’s younger defenders.
“It was because we trusted each other and on game day, we just knew what we needed to do,” Johnson said.
“One guy would go forward and push up and the next one will come in. If I was in a one-on-one battle, I knew Luke McPharlin would come over for support.
“Those years were really enjoyable, especially making the finals and playing against some quality sides. We knew what we needed to do as a group and we knew a lot of teams feared us back then.”
“It is tough to actually retire and give it up but I think the new crop of backmen now, with Alex Pearce and Joel Hamling leading the way, I think they’ve got something special.
“They’re a really young group and, hopefully, they’ve learnt something from us who have represented before them.”
Johnson said he was thankful to a number of people for their support in his career.
“Having my beautiful wife Dayna and my three children Ameliah, Levi and Nevaya have helped me keep a balance,” Johnson said.
“Since (senior coach) Ross (Lyon) has come on board, he’s been really strong in helping me develop as a player and I think he’s done that and I’ve played my best footy under him.
“My Mum’s been a strong support, my stepdad and my old man Peter – before he passed away he was at every football game I ever played as a junior and then every home game for Fremantle.
“He was always there and those guys have taught me important things about life and how to treat people.”
Johnson also paid tribute to the Fremantle fans, who he will bid farewell to at Saturday’s clash.
“It’s just a weird feeling as 14 years ago just feels like yesterday, but the support that I’ve received over the years has been unbelievable,” Johnson said.
“Especially through the tough times, that amount of support is something I’ll never forget. It will always be with me.
“I have a huge thanks to the supporters. These are the best supporters in the AFL and that’s not just the WA crew, it’s all over Australia.
“Just stick by the club because the club is going in the right direction. I know I wish I was still a part of it but the club has to make some tough calls and I know that the club is in the right hands with the right leaders.
“Stay on board because there are some bright times ahead for our playing group.”