Sydney Swans defender Alex Johnson’s fairy-tale comeback ended in disaster as he limped off the field with a torn ACL in his right knee.
The star of Sydney’s AFL premiership winning campaign of 2012 was making his first appearance in six years after a horrific run of injuries.
His remarkable return to contention following five knee reconstructions and 12 operations had captivated the nation and his comeback was greeted with widespread excitement, but Johnson landed awkwardly while trying to tackle Demons star Jesse Hogan at the MCG and he had to be carried from the field of play in the first quarter.
“It’s the knee he hasn’t had any trouble with, but at this stage it looks like an ACL which is disappointing obviously for Alex,” said Swans head of football Tom Harley.
“Him more than anyone knows we’ve got a job to do now. He is certainly a much-admired character so it’s disappointing for him but hopefully the guys get up.”
Johnson declined to have immediate treatment in order to keep his teammates’ spirits up, and fans hope the players will now rally and seize silverware for him.
It certainly seemed to work at the weekend.
Melbourne booted three goals following his exit, and Sydney’s finals hopes were in tatters. But the Swans rebounded in style, banging in seven straight goals after the quarter time address.
Isaac Heeney was immense, and the Swans closed out victory. It left them sixth in the ladder, but level on points with fourth placed Hawthorn and fifth placed Collingwood, and four points ahead of Melbourne and Port Adelaide.
Check out Bookmaker and its review so you can find the best odds available, and you will see that the Swans are still very much in the mix for Grand Final glory.
Richmond understandably head the betting, followed by GWS and an impressive West Coast, but the Swans are in the next group along with Collingwood, Hawthorn and Melbourne.
Triple M pundit Michael Roberts said: “I’m not surprised of the lead by Sydney at half time, it’s because of Alex Johnson. At quarter time they got around him.” The players now need to get around him for the rest of the season.
The Swans have the trickiest run to the finals of any team, as they still have to face GWS and Hawthorn before the end of the year. Yet they faced a stern test when trailing against Melbourne and they came through it in style, with Lance Franklin on fire and Heeney providing heroics.
Franklin is now just six majors behind Ben Brown and Jack Riewoldt in the goals chart. He is still a massive outsider to take the Coleman Medal ahead of that duo, given Sydney’s difficult run in, but he has defied the odds several times before and if he continues the rich vein of form he displayed in the third term against Melbourne at the weekend, then the Swans will be dangerous. His term of eight disposals, six marks and 2.4 kept the Swans in charge of the match and helped then close out a nine point win.
With two rounds to go, neither Sydney nor Melbourne are locks to compete in September, but the Swans could soar if they channel the devastating loss of Johnson into a rally.
These are the sort of moments that can inspire teams to achieve great feats, and Johnson would want them to thrive. They must also do without Nick Smith, who injured a hamstring, so everything seems to be conspiring against them, but adversity often breeds unity and success, and that will make Sydney a dangerous opponent in the final two rounds.