Injury-plagued Sydney Swans defender Alex Johnson last year fought his way back from five knee reconstructions, seven other knee operations and a recurring knee infection. 

But the 2012 premiership star has told of the frustration he shrugged off as he returned from a minor groin setback in Sydney’s 51-point win over Sydney University last Friday.

The 26-year-old underwent groin surgery in February and played his first game of the season in the Round 9 clash as the Swans and Students brought in Marn Grook at the SCG.

Johnson said the latest hurdle was tough to clear.

“It took a lot longer than what I thought it would,” Johnson said.

“You’re missing weeks of footy. I thought I was going to be out for 4-6 weeks and it turned into 12-14 weeks, so it took a lot longer than what I thought. Any injury is frustrating – it doesn’t matter what you’ve been through beforehand. I just wanted to get back out there as soon as possible.

“The ‘rehab dungeon’ isn’t a great place to spend time. I’ve spent a lot of time there over the journey and to have to spend more time there is not great for anyone.”

Johnson was eased into the match from the start of the second quarter and was limited to 60 minutes of game time.

He collected his first possession at the six-minute mark of the second term off an Aliir Aliir handball and finished the match with nine disposals.

The 2010 draftee is expected to increase his load to 80 minutes on Saturday as Sydney takes on the Redland Bombers in Brisbane.

Johnson hasn’t played a senior game since Sydney beat Hawthorn in the 2012 grand final and last year returned from his string of knee troubles to play nine NEAFL games over the back half of the season.

He will continue to churn out hours of physiotherapy on end to keep himself in prime shape and said he had learned invaluable lessons from his grinding journey.

“I’m working with the physios pretty closely and do a lot of pilates just to ensure I’m on top of all that,” Johnson said.

“It’s just more prehab while you’re back playing – that preventative stuff to stay on top of your body.

“I’m a lot more patient than what I was four or five years ago. That’s the biggest thing I’ve taken out of it.”

A long list of Swans on the verge of senior selection again starred in the Swans’ win over the Students as they pencilled in a fourth win on the trot and bolstered their top-four position.

Dan Robinson was a bull at the contest and has recorded 30-plus disposals in every NEAFL game this season.

Dean Towers has impressed since he returned to the NEAFL in Round 7 and gathered 26 touches and a goal in the match with Sydney University, while Aliir tallied 20 possessions and was rock-solid in defence.

Ruckman Darcy Cameron (17 touches, 54 hit-outs) and backman Colin O’Riordan continued to press their claims for AFL debuts, while forward James Rose posted 29 disposals and a goal in pursuit of a senior recall.

A number of younger players produced stand-out performances of their own, including QBE Sydney Swans Academy star Bailey Stewart.

The Under-19 Academy member registered 25 disposals and three goals just a week after claiming the Round 8 NEAFL Rising Star nomination for playing a stand-out role against the Brisbane Lions.

“The listed players have to play well for the top-ups to come in and contribute,” Johnson said.

“You’ve got 16 and 17-year-olds that are coming and playing with these guys, so if the bigger bodies and more experienced players are playing well it’s a lot easier for them.”