Alex Johnson makes inspirational return for Sydney Swans in NEAFL against Canberra Demons
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Alex Johnson makes inspirational return for Sydney Swans in NEAFL against Canberra Demons

Inspirational Sydney Swans defender Alex Johnson has taken the biggest step in his remarkable football comeback story by completing a game for the first time in 1736 days.

Johnson was mobbed by his teammates after he nailed a goal midway through the second term in a celebration that sent shivers down the spine.

Canberra Demons vs Sydney Swans July 1. Alex Johnson being swarmed by his team mates in celebration after scoring a goal. Photo: Dion Georgopoulos

Canberra Demons vs Sydney Swans July 1. Alex Johnson being swarmed by his team mates in celebration after scoring a goal. Photo: Dion GeorgopoulosCredit:Dion Georgopoulos

Johnson has been forced to battle back from five knee reconstructions, 12 operations, and rare infections - but from the opening bounce he knew nearly five years of heartache was all worth it.

The Swans premiership winner last played an AFL match in the 2012 grand final and finally got another taste of football in the NEAFL at Manuka Oval on Saturday.

For the record, the Swans hammered the Canberra Demons 20.18 (138) to 7.5 (47), but what mattered most was the fact Johnson got through the match unscathed.

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​He played the first half before being rested for the remainder of the match as he added another chapter into one of football's most remarkable comeback stories.

"It's been a long time between drinks between playing," Johnson said.

"Just to get back out there, finally at the end of a road of a lot of hard work and a pretty tough journey, it's awesome."

Johnson admits it was a weird feeling getting prepared for the game - he'd almost forgotten how to, given he's barely put his footy shorts on since early 2013 except for team photos.

But the crowd was right behind him from the opening bounce, with huge cries of "let's go AJ" ringing out from the Don Bradman Stand as he lined up on the wing.

"It was a bit strange, a strange feeling getting out there," Johnson said.

"For the first little period of the game I just didn't really know what I was doing, I probably look like that as well.

"But just to be out there with a bunch of boys that I absolutely love and this club, to be able to represent them as well, it was awesome."

Johnson donned the No. 2 instead of the No. 34 he used to wear in a nod to his premiership teammate and Swans NEAFL coach Rhyce Shaw.

Shaw had nothing but praise for the 25-year-old, who has moved mountains in his bid to return to the elite level.

"I'm amazed with just how he's got through each and every day really," Shaw said.

"There's no greater example of mental toughness and resilience than Alex and a lot of our boys take a lot out of what he does and how he goes about it."

Shaw says the moment Johnson's snap sailed through the goals in the second term the vibe "was like we'd won the grand final to be honest".

He had a set shot from the boundary minutes later in front of a host of AFL stars including Lance Franklin and Dan Hannebery, who all had their phones out to record what they hoped was another major.

Swans senior players Franklin, Hannebery, Dane Rampe, Jake Lloyd, Tom Papley, Dean Towers and Nic Newman flew into Canberra the morning after knocking over the Melbourne Demons to celebrate Johnson's return to footy.

Even though the kick sailed wide, the Swans stars couldn't wipe the smiles off their faces, so proud were they of their teammate for battling back to this level.

"They don't have to do that stuff and that just shows what an impact he's had on the club," Shaw said.

"The boys wanted to be here for him and it's good to see."

NEAFL

CANBERRA DEMONS 1.1 1.2 3.3 7.5 (47)

SYDNEY SWANS 4.6 14.13 18.15 20.18 (138)

Canberra Goal Kickers: R. Pollock 3, A. Bruce, D. Roberts, J. Harper, W. Muir
Canberra Best Players: S. Martyn, B. Halse, B. Fulford, J. Harper, R. Pollock, A. Smout

Sydney Goal Kickers: C. Sinclair 3, J. Rose 3, B. Stewart 2, S. Edwards 2, A. Aliir 2, B. Ronke 2, A. Johnson, T. Leonardis, D. Robinson, J. Foote, S. Fisher, J. Laidler
Sydney Best Players: C. O"Riordan, C. Sinclair, J. Rose, D. Robinson, J. Foote, H. Marsh

AFL CANBERRA

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GUNGAHLIN JETS 0.0 2.0 2.0 2.2 14

BELCONNEN MAGPIES 7.8 14.11 23.17 27.24 (186)