The Brisbane Lions’ AFL premiership hat-trick of 2001-02-03 was a lot of things to a lot of people, but to Shane Johnson it was like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Vindication of more than 20 years of service at the coalface of Queensland football ahead of another 20 years thereafter.
A boy from Wynyard on Tasmania’s north-west coast, he moved via Hobart to Brisbane in 1975 to begin an involvement at club, league, state, and AFL level highlighted by the Lions flags.
He worked his way up the football tree and back down the tree, leaving a positive legacy wherever he went. All after playing at junior and senior level at Wynyard, and at senior level in Hobart, he requested an employment transfer with the Commonwealth Bank hoping to further his career in the warmer Queensland climate and doing just that.
He played seven years and 123 games with QAFL club Mayne from 1975-81 while working as the club’s junior director of coaching, taking the club from 132 juniors to 280 while serving as assistant-coach of the Queensland Under 17 side in 1979 and coaching the Mayne Under 19s in 1980.
He had a real passion for coaching, and was in charge at Maroochydore for two years, winning a flag in his first season in 1982 and later coached the Sunshine Coast Under 17 side and serving as assistant coach of the senior representative side under ex-Melbourne great John Townsend.
He coached the Mayne Reserves in the QAFL in 1984, completed his level three coaching certificate in 1985, and after, coached the 1986 Queensland Teal Cup (Under 17 side) which produced Hawthorn premiership ruckman Stephen Lawrence, who was judged the carnival’s best player, Bears players Troy Clarke and David Wearne, Grogan Medallists Dean Warren and Cam Buchanan, and North Adelaide SANFL premiership captain Tim Perkins. The Maroons won the division two title and Johnson was named All-Australian assistant coach under Ray Jordan.
He was QAFL State Director of Coaching and later Game Development Manager from 1986-92, managing regional managers to increase junior participation, coordinating all Teal Cup teams and fostering country leagues.
A State selector from 1987-92, he played a key role in the Queensland team at the 1988 State of Origin Bi-Centennial Carnival in Adelaide, coached by Peter Knights and captained by Zane Taylor, headed up the first City v Country game at the Gabba as a prelude to the first Australian Country Championships in Shepparton in 1991, took the Queensland side to Port Lincoln in 1992, and was a selector and assistant coach with the Queensland Schoolboys sides from 1987-91, over-seeing the Brisbane carnival in 1990.
He took the massively successful ‘Vickick’ program and developed a pilot version for Queensland which he named ‘Auskick’, drove the introduction of and funding for the Queensland Independent Schools competition, and was party to the restructuring of the Under-18 Queensland Talent Pathway and the establishment of the Gold Coast Stingrays, Western Magpies, South-East Bushrangers and the Northern Raiders.
With the Brisbane Bears’ move to the Gabba and the revamp of the club administration he was Football Manager and later Player Development Manager from 1992-2006 as the club grew from a staff of 16 with an annual turnover of $9 million to a staff of 65 and a $32 million turnover.
A match committee member for six years, he coordinated the establishment of the Brisbane Lions Reserves team, and in a critical off-field role appreciated most by those internal, he oversaw the relocation of more than 120 interstate recruits, was largely responsible for player welfare and was part of over-riding consolidation of a culture that bred a strong player retention rate.
A member of the selection panel for the Queensland Team of the Century in 2001 and the early years of the Queensland Hall of Fame, he later was Queensland Manager of the AFL Sportsready Traineeship program from 2006-19 while going back to grassroots football. He was a state selector from 2007-12 and coordinated a feasibility on the establishment of a QAFL team on the Sunshine Coast. He drove the establishment of the Sunshine Coast Hall of Fame in 2010, coached Bribie Island in 2013 and was an assistant coach at Mayne in 2014-15 before heading ‘home’ to Tasmania in retirement in 2019.
Unable to stay away from the game which, with wife Sandra and daughters Erin and Bethanie, had dominated his life, he went back as a volunteer coaching assistant where it all began – with the Wynyard. Now from afar he’s helping to organise Mayne’s 100th year celebrations in 2024 and the launch of the club’s Hall of Fame.
“I’m a grassroots man – I want to help people which is why the welfare role fitted. The rise of the Lions was unbelievable, but I got just as much of a kick watching Morningside play Southport on a Sunday, trying to identify young guys who could play for Queensland, and then going back to Mayne with Danny Craven and Neville Miller,” he said.
“They hadn’t won a flag in 33 years and to win both senior grades, and see a lot of members of the 1982 premiership side there, was special. It’s what grassroots footy is all about.”
A confidant, mentor and friend to so many young players, he said famously in 1992 “I won’t be satisfied until we shed the ‘Bad News Bears’ image”. As he watched the Lions’ success and all that followed, coupled with the explosion of the game at grassroots level for men and women and all associated activities, he should be more than satisfied.