Fans have flooded social media with touching messages of support and admiration for Alex Johnson after the Sydney defender completed one of the most inspirational returns to the AFL.
Johnson was a mix of elation and relief after his long-awaited AFL return, which was some 2136 days in the making.
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The Sydney defender, who recovered from 12 knee operations to run out for his first game since the 2012 grand final, played a key role in the Swans’ two-point win over Collingwood.
The backman played on giant American Mason Cox, who finished with one goal.
Every one of Johnson’s 16 disposals was greeted with a loud cheer from the SCG crowd of 39,238.
The 26-year-old also produced a couple of clutch defensive efforts, including a fantastic tackle that won a holding-the-ball free kick.
There were stirring scenes after the siren as Swans players swarmed on emotional Johnson to celebrate the momentous occasion with their teammate.
Emotions were also running high for supporters on social media.
Can’t stop re-watching the footy! My throat is still sore from cheering – @sydneyswans were awesome, but oh my – the tears from Alex Johnson’s mother. Very special for them and a perfect comeback for the player who hasn’t lost an AFL game in 2136 days. #GoSwans
— Anne Cuskelly (@faroutsprout) August 4, 2018
— Jim Wilson (@JimWilsonTV) August 4, 2018
Wow! Hardly any voice but no matter!! One of the best wins we’ve ever seen live. @Sydneyswans you are the bomb. After 6 years of injury and rehab – welcome back Alex Johnson . And Buddy?? There are no words just #respect . #GOSWANNIES
— Lynne McGranger (@LynneMcGranger) August 4, 2018
After 2136 days out of @afl and enduring 5 knee reconstructions,
12 knee operations, 1 reoccurring knee infection & 1 groin surgery, the inspirational Alex Johnson joined us on @abcgrandstand . What a moment, brave man and epic @sydneyswans win. #aflswanspies pic.twitter.com/V82PDXalTz
— Shannon Byrne (@shannonbyrne23) August 4, 2018
On a date tonight, managed to get to a TV for the end of #AFLSwansPies then had to explain to my non-footy minded date why I was crying. All the Alex Johnson feels man 😭
— Lauren (@Lozzemarine) August 4, 2018
— Milram 361 (@Milram361) August 4, 2018
The feel good story of the night definitely has to come from Alex Johnson .. The resilience & persistence he has had to get back out there after 6 years & 5 knee reconstructions is remarkably amazing to see him never give up!!
— Steph (@stephh__x) August 4, 2018
Sydney’s young forward Tom McCartin kicked the match-winner with two minutes remaining on Saturday night, ensuring a “roller-coaster” couple of days for Johnson ended on a high note.
“It’s just elation. joy. A little bit of relief to get through … I was fairly nervous today. Once I got my first touch I felt like I was in the game and we were away,” Johnson told the club website.
“I’m really happy the club told me I was playing on Wednesday morning, so I had three days to prepare.
“Wednesday was a whirlwind. My phone ran hot. I probably received 450 messages over the past three days.
“The support I’ve had throughout the whole journey and this week – from my inner sanctum but also the football community and wider community – has been overwhelming.”
Swans coach John Longmire made the point earlier this week that Johnson fully deserved his spot and hadn’t been picked because of a feel-good factor.
Longmire was true to his word, asking Johnson to play on the Magpies’ most potent threat.
“A big ask, coming in and playing a fair bit of the game on a bloke who has been in pretty good form,” Longmire said on Saturday night.
“What we thought we’d get was a competitive effort. That’s what we got.
“He got a taste of what AFL footy is all about for the first time in a long time, played an important role and helped us.”
Longmire was thrilled Sydney snatched a victory that lifted them back into the top eight, but conceded their reliance on Lance Franklin was a concern.
Franklin kicked 6.4 against the Magpies.
“We need to find other avenues. There’s no question about that and if you look at the other names up there, they’re still learning and finding their way at senior level,” Longmire said.
“They’re going to have an impact at times but they’re also going to be in and out of the game, and that’s OK.”