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'Why can't I?': Swans defender Alex Johnson using Daniel Menzel's return as inspiration

Adam Curley  February 8, 2016 7:00 AM

AFL 2013 NAB Cup Rd 03 - Sydney v Gold Coast

Alex Johnson reacts after injuring his knee during the 2013 NAB Challenge

If he's able to do it, then why can't I?

LUCKLESS Sydney Swan Alex Johnson will spend the next few weeks consulting Australia's finest knee surgeons in a bid to have what could be his final crack at resurrecting his career.

Johnson burst onto the scene when he made 20 appearances in his debut season in 2011, then played every game the following year, culminating in a classy 15-possession effort in the Swans' thrilling 10-point Grand Final win over Hawthorn.

He was a premiership player at just 20 and looked like being a mainstay of the Swans' defence for the next decade, until the pre-season of 2013 when he tore the ACL in his left knee.

Fast forward to 2015 and Johnson still hasn't returned to senior footy.

Four knee reconstructions - both traditional and hybrid LARS procedures - have all failed to fix one of the game's most talented young players.

Johnson's latest reconstruction in November – he's had 10 operations in total – was supposed to end his troubles, but when the joint blew up less than two weeks later, surgeons again went in and removed his ACL.

The resilient defender said this week his medical team still couldn't give him an answer as to why infection attacked his knee again.

"I'm in a bit of a holding pattern again, which I've sort of gotten used to over the past few years, just waiting for something to happen," he told AFL.com.au at the team's training camp in Coffs Harbour.

"There's been an infection before, that might have something to do with it, but we're not 100 per cent sure - (the medical team) can't really tell us at the moment."

Geelong's Daniel Menzel and Fremantle's Anthony Morabito have also had equally shocking runs with knee issues, and Johnson said he'd been in regular contact with the Cats forward.

Menzel, after missing almost four full seasons, finally returned to senior footy last year with a brilliant four-goal performance in a losing side against Collingwood in round 22.

"Seeing someone like that (Daniel Menzel) go through four reconstructions and then come back the way he did in the AFL gives me a lot of hope, and he's a huge inspiration to me," Johnson said.

"He missed a lot of football and so have I, so I think 'if he's able to do it, then why can't I'?"

Despite his pain and suffering, Johnson has been maintained his ultra-positive attitude and continues to be a huge influence around the Swans changerooms.

This season, Johnson will work closely with recently retired premiership teammate Rhyce Shaw, who has taken on the role as the Swans' NEAFL coach, and will mentor the club's up-and-coming backmen.

Showing just how highly regarded Johnson is by the Swans, he's been handed Shaw's old No.2 guernsey this year.

It might sound strange to some, but Johnson says he's actually looking forward to his next – and hopefully final – knee reconstruction later this year, and he's still not yet considering retirement.

"It hasn't entered my head yet. I'm looking forward to giving it another crack, and then if that (operation) doesn't work out, then we'll cross that bridge when we come to it, but I have every faith that it will," he said.

"I grew up wanting to play footy and I grew up wanting to play at the highest level, and I was lucky enough to do that in my first couple of years - I had a really successful 2012, which I was rapt about.

"I really wanted to go on from there and build on those first couple of years but I haven't had the opportunity yet.

"I have the same dream now as I did when I was a young kid and I just want to get back and play footy.

"That's my No.1 priority."