After four years away, two of them spent in the white of Kildare, coming home was a gamble which could have backfired but Sunday’s memorable performance was the latest sign he’s cashing in his chips now.
Johnston scored 0-7 against Armagh before getting a rousing reception from the home supporters in Kingspan Breffni Park — some of whom probably booed him when he scored against Cavan in an All-Ireland qualifiers in 2012 - when taken off a few minutes from the end.
It was a case of job done, and the 31-year-old couldn’t have been any more pleased about it.
“It probably is like living a dream,” he said.
“I dreamt of playing on days like this growing up and I probably did not see it happening. There is risk involved in anything in life, but if you always looked at the negative you would never do anything.
“I took a chance [coming back] and thank God it has worked out. It is okay so far, but this is only the beginning. Hopefully, this Cavan team will push on. A lot of hard work has gone in and a lot of sacrifice from a lot of people. I’m just delighted to be involved and delighted to contribute.”
Johnston made a statement on his return to league action kicking six points in the win over Meath in Navan, the game which seems to have turned their season around. Staring at an eight-point deficit, the Cavan Gaels forward was the inspiration as they finished up with a seven-point win.
Neither he nor the team have looked back since, though his only forgettable afternoon was the Division Two league final defeat by Tyrone – their opponents in the Ulster SFC semi-final at Clones.
“It’s a long time since I played in an Ulster semi-final so it’s something to look forward to. We were favourites to win [against Armagh] and we embraced that.
“We fully believed we would win and we did win. We won’t be favourites in three weeks time but we’ll give it one hell of a rattle. You don’t play this game to be second best or to get to an Ulster semi-final. We are trying to get to an Ulster final, as they [Tyrone] are. They have spoken that their focus is to win the Ulster championship this year and they are moving very well. They gave us a bit of a lesson in Croke Park a few weeks ago. It’s up to us to close the gap.”
Cavan’s commitment to attack has never been greater under Terry Hyland and the team’s transition from defence to attack is slicker and better organised than ever.
The system suits a top-class finisher like Johnston. He’s also been delighted to return to a Cavan dressing-room and discover a hungry group of young players desperate to have senior careers of substance after a lot of underage success.
“We have some real top quality players. You have Gearóid (McKiernan), one of the best players in the country, Dara McVeety is class, Cian Mackey — you could name a lot of them. They are all excellent footballers but they want to win as well. They have great drive and are just a great bunch.
“Scoring 2-16 is not bad. We are trying to get that balance from defence and going okay at it, but there are still tweaks to be made. We are going to have to show something different when we’re playing one of the best teams in Ireland in a couple of weeks time. We will be prepared, and ready.”