After 1736 days on the sidelines, Alex Johnson will line up for the Sydney Swans in Saturday’s NEAFL clash with the Canberra Demons at Manuka Oval.
It’s been some journey for Johnson to return to playing after rupturing his ACL in the 2013 pre-season competition – just five months after starring in the Club’s 2012 premiership.
The 25-year-old has had to overcome five knee reconstructions, 12 operations, a rare infection and myriad setbacks along the way, and has not played a senior match since the 2012 Grand Final – four years, nine months and two days ago.
A much-loved character among his teammates, Johnson has shown unrivalled resilience and toughness, and has never given up hope of returning to the playing arena.
“It is just something within me that I have been able to keep positive and keep everything in perspective,” Johnson said.
“There are a lot of people a lot worse off than me in the world and I have still had a really good job over the last few years where I come to work with really good people and keep fit for a living.
“I have always had that goal of returning to the field and that is what I want to achieve.”
sydneyswans.com.au was there to capture Johnson’s inspiring journey back to playing, watch above on SwansTV.
The Swans recruited Johnson with pick 57 in the 2010 AFL Draft from the Oakleigh Chargers. Tall and agile, he instantly impressed in his first pre-season with the Swans, earning a senior debut in Round 3, 2011 against West Coast.
Johnson quickly emerged into a reliable, rebounding defender, and just 44 games after making his debut he lined up in guernsey No. 34 in the 2012 Grand Final, finishing the game with 15 disposals, four marks, three tackles and the final kick of the match.
After picking up the Swans’ Rising Star Award that year, Johnson was on the verge of forging a long and successful career, before injury struck.
Johnson’s story is one of persistence, toughness and courage, as he strives to become the only player in the game’s history to come back from five knee reconstructions.
Swans coach John Longmire said it’s one of the most inspiring stories he’s seen in his time in the game.
“I haven’t seen anything quite like Alex’s journey – he’s had five knee reconstructions and some pretty down times,” Longmire said.
“Sitting down with him and seeing him a couple of times with the infections he’s had in his knee, and what that’s done to him not only in a football sense but more in a human sense, has been really heartbreaking, but also inspiring in the way he’s been able to deal with it.
“His mental resilience is as strong as I’ve ever seen and his ability to put the setbacks to one side and keep concentrating on the future has been at an incredibly high level.”
The Sydney Swans and Canberra Demons NEAFL match will be played at Canberra’s Manuka Oval on Saturday, July 1 at 12pm.
Alex Johnson: a career timeline
Taken with pick No.57 in the 2010 NAB AFL Draft, Johnson made his debut against West Coast at Domain Stadium in round three. He went on to play 20 games, including both of the Swans' finals.
Johnson's breakout season came when he played all 25 games for the year in defence, and played a starring role in the Swans' premiership as a 20-year-old. The 2012 Grand Final is still the last senior game he has played.
March: Johnson tears the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the first term of the Swans' third pre-season clash against Gold Coast at Blacktown, and days later undergoes a traditional reconstruction.
July: Scans reveal a second reconstruction is needed after the graft from his first bout of surgery in March failed to hold.
August: Johnson decides to opt for a hybrid LARS operation in a bid to get back in time for the 2014 season.
February: Johnson completes his first full training session since his initial injury, and spends time on superstar recruit Lance Franklin in match simulation drills.
March: Just over a week after his 22nd birthday, the luckless Swan ruptures the ACL in his left knee. The incident occurs in a marking contest just 10 minutes into his first proper game back, in the reserves against GWS at Spotless Stadium as the curtain-raiser to the AFL's season opener.
July: After being forced to beat an infection in his knee and wait for inflammation to subside, Johnson finally undergoes his second bout of LARS surgery.
September: Unable to beat another persistent infection, surgeons are forced to remove Johnson's second LARS graft.
January: Johnson is ruled out for the season.
October: In a show of faith by the Swans, Johnson is re-signed by the club for the 2016 season on a one-year contract, despite still waiting to have his fourth reconstruction.
November: Johnson goes under the knife again to have his fourth reconstruction, another hybrid LARS procedure.
December: Less than a month after his surgery, Johnson is rushed to hospital to fight another infection in his knee, which results in the graft being removed for a second time.
June: After months of complications with more infections, Johnson undergoes his fifth reconstruction, and his 12th knee operation in total.
September: Johnson's hard work pays off when he runs on solid ground for the first time in 906 days at the SCG. The Swans playing group and coaching staff come in on their day off to support him, giving him a standing ovation as he runs laps.
October: Johnson is named best clubman at Sydney's club champion awards and signs another one-year deal with the club.
February: Johnson is placed on the club's long-term injury list but continues to progress on the training track, despite suffering a minor hamstring strain during the pre-season.
April: The defender completes his first contact full training session in over three years at the SCG.
June: Named to play for the club's reserve side against Canberra in the NEAFL, nearly five-and-a-half years after winning the 2012 Grand Final.