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Motivation high as Howard returns for Swans in 2024

Thursday, March 28, 2024 - 2:53 PM

There was no shortage of reasons for Alex Howard to be motivated to continue his 174-game WAFL career with Swan Districts in 2024 and he's left no stone unturned to make sure he's ready to return after two years out of the game.

Whether it's the desire to help Swans achieve some success and to be part of it, to be part of the significant milestones his long-time defensive teammate Tony Notte will achieve in 2024 or to let his son enjoy seeing his dad out there playing, Howard was high on motivation to make a return.

He initially retired at the end of the 2021 season having played 174 games with Swan Districts having initially made his debut as a 17-year-old in 2011 and becoming a cornerstone of the defensive unit over the next decade.

However, with the pending birth of now two-year-old son Tommy with wife Shannon, and the increased life and work responsibilities, he felt the time was right by the end of 2021.

Howard hasn’t played a game of football since but the itch to return did strike last year before a torn hamstring in pre-season quickly ended those plans.

That gave him another 12 months to get ready to get back to play, he continued to work as part of the Swan Districts coaching staff and now the 30-year-old can't wait to get back out there in the black-and-white jumper.

The desire to make a return

Initially Howard retired at the end of 2021 just because he wasn’t going to be able to commit the time required to play at the remarkably high level he had done over his 174-game career up to that point.

His son was about to arrive and he owed it to his family to make them his priority. That hasn’t changed, but with his son now two and able to enjoy running around at games himself, Howard thought the time was right.

He did think about a comeback a year ago too, but in hindsight his body just wasn’t ready and now he feels the time is right to be back in 2024.

"Last year I sat down and had a conversation with Pruey about potentially coming back because I was already doing a lot of running with an eye to doing a marathon or half marathon or something," Howard said.

"So I was pretty fit and then last pre-season I gave it a go, but I trained for two weeks and played a practice game where I tore my hamstring pretty badly.

"So after that I thought if I'd give it a crack I would do it properly this time so at the middle of last year I started training after doing the rehab for my hamstring, and gave my body the actual time to get ready for the demands of playing the modern day game.

"I still didn’t have the expectation of getting this far and wanting to play, but the feeling down there was so good and the group coming through are so good to be around that I wanted to be part of it. I was really enjoying it, got the itch back and have stuck around as long as I can."

Right decision to come back

Now as Howard prepares to return to the field officially for the start of the WAFL season this Saturday at Steel Blue Oval against the West Coast Eagles, he can't help thinking everything is pointing to it being the right decision.

"I haven’t played any footy at all. I have coached our back-line for the past two years so I've still been around the club and have had a bit of a kick of the footy, but haven’t played anywhere," he said.

"It does feel like a good decision at the moment. I feel like I'm playing reasonable footy and it has probably taken me a couple of games to get used to the speed of the game, and just things like reading the ball in flight and things like that from playing back-line.

"I've tried to do a lot of extra work and I think having that feeling of wanting to do the extra work outside of our training to prepare my body properly just sort of proves that I have made the right decision.

"I'm really enjoying it and want to be down there to push to play league football again. We're a pretty deep back-line so there's a lot of competition for spots and I think that also drives me to try and prove that I can still do it."

Big year ahead for Tony Notte

Howard has played his entire WAFL career alongside Tony Notte in the defensive unit at Swan Districts and Notte was one of the players alongside co-captain Brandon Erceg to chair him off the field at the end of 2021.

The desire to be part of what could be a historic year for Notte with 300 games on the horizon and the 305-game club record of Bill Walker on the horizon, and he would forever have kicked himself had he not tried to be there for the occasions.

"That's a massive drive for me to get back up to that level again having seen what Notte is going through and still being able to keep going, and show that even as you get a bit older you can still play at that level," Howard said.

"I'm also very close with Tony so wanting to play in those milestone games with him is something that I did discuss with him late last year when I was thinking about coming back to put the boots on again.

"I wanted to get that opportunity to play with him again but also Brandon Erceg who I'm really close with so getting to run around with them again was a big factor because getting to play with some of your best mates is something that's pretty exciting."

Feeling of expectation at the club

Last season was one of frustration at Swan Districts with the string of tight losses early in the piece and the horror run of injury all the way through.

Despite that, they weren’t far away from making the finals and Howard saw all of that up close as part of the coaching staff, and already feels the sense of excitement and expectations from everyone at the club coming into the 2024 season.

"I do 100 per cent get that feeling and that was another thing driving me to come back was that feeling that we were that close as a team," Howard said.

"If I could contribute in any way that makes us deeper or a little bit better or even just teaching some of the younger guys around the club to keep driving that level of playing expectation then I wanted to be part of that.

"I think the whole group feels that we are ready. Last year was a good building year especially that second half and bringing in a few more really good, experienced guys into that squad now as well as younger guys like Brenton Hilton and Bryce Watson coming back has us in a good place.

"Then you have those Colts and Reserves Premiership players so we'll be so deep all over the group whereas probably over the last five or six years we haven’t quite had that same depth. Now everyone has to play well to hold their spot and that's a good position to be in to have that pressure coming from underneath."

Coming back to play with a young son

The other significant difference for Howard as he comes back to play with Swan Districts in 2024 is that he's doing so now as a father.

When he retired at the end of 2021, his wife Shannon was pregnant with soon-to-arrive son Tommy and he's now a little over two years of age, and already seems to like being able to see his dad running out there in the black-and-white jumper.

"That's really exciting for me too and even just last week it was the first time my wife brought him down for a game," Howard said.

"He saw me on the bench and I was walking along the boundary line and he ran up to me, and gave me a high five so even just little things like that are pretty special.

"Even things like if I'm able to bring him into the changerooms to sing the song with us, and anything like that I'm looking forward to.

"He's two and two months now, and he is starting to pick up the football around the house to kick it and he loves playing with that or even the soccer ball.

"He loves coming down now too and I have a little niece who is eight months younger and they come down to the football with the two of them running around together. It's nice having little kids there."

What Howard has noticed coming back to football as a father is that he no longer puts the same pressure on himself to perform, and it's given a greater perspective that your mood doesn’t necessarily have to be determined by what happens on the field.

"Even outside of football it's changed me a lot too where I used to really get down and dwell on losses or if I'd played a bad game," he said.

"But now to come home and there's a young man running around just happy as anything, and giving you a hug and everything changes. You put those things out of your mind again until you go back to the football club and turn your attention back to that."