The inspirational footy comeback of Sydney defender Alex Johnson could become reality in the next month.
Johnson, who last played senior footy in the Swans' 2012 Grand Final win, is edging closer to a return to the field after a nightmare five years that has seen him have five reconstructions, seven other operations and countless complications on his left knee.
The 25-year-old's commitment and unwavering positivity has been remarkable over such a challenging period, and he told SEN radio on Wednesday that he was eyeing a possible return in the NEAFL in the next 4-6 weeks.
"A few years ago I would have thought it was almost impossible, but it's getting closer now and I'm really excited," he said.
"It's been a really long journey. Footballers are most comfortable when they're playing and training every week, and are part of the group, but I've spent a lot of time on my own in the 'dungeon' working hard.
"Three or four surgeons said I probably should give it away.
"I was rushed to hospital because my knee wasn't in great shape, and there were thoughts that an infection could do some real damage, but in terms of throwing in the towel, it's not something I've entertained too much.
"At times it has been really lonely, but I've always had my goal of returning to the AFL and that’s always been at the forefront of my mind, and hopefully it's looking like it will happen this year."
Johnson has brought up plenty of mini milestones over the past few months, such as beating the infections that threatened his career after surgery, training without strapping on his knee, and stepping up the intensity of his running.
Handed the Swans' No.2 jumper by fellow premiership defender and NEAFL coach Rhyce Shaw when he retired at the end of 2015, Johnson helped his old teammate with some coaching in the reserves last year, and did some extra kicking work with Shaw at the SCG on Tuesday after getting through his first full session in years.
Johnson said his memories of his last game were sketchy, but the running backman's performance that day – Johnson was outstanding in the first half in just his second season – has given him the drive to get back to the highest level.
"It seems like a lifetime ago, but that’s something that has given me confidence, knowing that I can match it with the best guys," he said.
"I have full confidence in myself that when I do get back, and obviously it'll take some time to get back into the game, I definitely think I have the skillset and the ability to get back there and match it with those guys again."