RICK Johnson is 31 and in a few weeks will play senior finals for the first time in his football career.
The ruckman will join his Ellinbank Football Club teammates who haven’t played finals in more than a decade.
Ellinbank, where Johnson’s father and uncles are among the past premiership players, will this year play finals for the first time since 2005. The ruckman almost gave the game away last season, saying he was not enjoying it, until Ben Wragg, a two-time Narre Warren premiership player, was appointed coach.
“It kind of put a spring in my step. We got fit and I’m playing as good footy as I’ve ever played,” Johnson said.
And, more importantly, he is enjoying football again.
Ellinbank’s place in the Ellinbank and District league’s final five is not only assured but the team could win a double chance. The club has three rounds left to earn a place in the top three.
Earning that place involves winning either or both of its coming meetings with the two teams above it — Neerim Neerim South and Catani.
Wragg said playing “team footy”, avoiding lulls and staying injury free were the three goals for the last three home-and-away matches.
Fullback James Black will make his return through the reserves after injuring his ankle in May, and Jackson Parker will make a return soon from hamstring injury.
“The side is up and about but now we’ve got a high expectation of the supporters and club base that we are going to be in finals and have a fair shot at it as well,” Wragg said.
“As much as there is excitement, there is also, not pressure, but expectation that we have got the side to go further.”
Ash Wallace, who plays with his brother, Toby, at the Eagles, is also looking forward to ending the club’s longstanding finals drought.
Wallace has played more than 200 senior games for the Eagles, but this year has been the highlight of the 29-year-old’s career.
“We’ve been waiting around for a while for it. We’re pretty excited to say the least,” he said. “We’ve been through the hard times with the club, it will be nice to get a little bit of success and play a few finals hopefully.”
Ellinbank won 12 games between 2013 and last year.
Its last senior premiership was 1995, but it is one of the most successful clubs in the league.