ALEX Johnson describes it as the "eight-day journey" that began the rebirth, and the heartbreaking conclusion, to his childhood dream of becoming an AFL footballer.

After 12 consecutive surgeries on his left knee due to a series of repeat ACL injuries, the Sydney premiership defender finally made his return to football after more than six years away from the game in August 2018.


However, the joy he experienced following his stunning comeback – playing a key role in his side's thrilling two-point victory over Collingwood – soon turned to devastation yet again.

Alex Johnson leaves the field after his comeback win. Picture: AFL Photos

Just eight days later, Johnson would rupture the ACL on his "good knee" just 22 minutes into his second match back on the field.

Hobbling from the MCG, Johnson knew his career was over. But while the image of his mum coming to the interchange bench to console him filled the luckless defender with emotions, it wasn’t until he made his way to the dressing rooms before he shed any tears.


"It was just me, my mum, my dad and my sister," Johnson told Hamish McLachlan in the new series Last Time I Cried.

"We just sat there and that's probably when it really hit me … this potentially could be it for me in terms of my career. When you're in the depths of the MCG, that's when you can let your emotions out a bit.

"I've never been too afraid of crying, but when you're in the company of your really close family and people who have been there the whole time … you just let it all out."

Nic Newman (right) in tears after Alex Johnson's final AFL game. Picture: AFL Photos

The injury would mean another 12 months of gruelling rehabilitation. But it would also mean the end of a career that had promised so much in its early stages, which included tasting premiership success at just 20 years of age.

After playing only 47 matches in eight years at Sydney, Johnson would be delisted at the end of the 2018 season. When that realisation sunk in, the highly respected Swan had time to feel the full brunt of his emotional setbacks.


"That week, in terms of those eight, nine, 10 days … that's probably the most I've cried in a short space of time," Johnson said.

"There was a two- or three-day period after that where you just tend to give up. You think not much is really worth it and you go through a lot of lows. There are not many positives that come out of those things.

"You realise the flow-on effect it has on other people. It forces relationships to break down.

"I've always tried to keep things in perspective as much as I could, there are always people around you that are going through worse things.

"But when something that you love and you're so passionate about and you work so hard for is taken away from you … it's an extremely hard pill to swallow and there's not much you can do to change that."