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Swan Districts Great Retires – Alex Howard

Friday, September 24, 2021 - 3:45 PM

He made his debut as a teenager in a team that were reigning premiers and retired after a heartbreaking finals loss, but in between Alex Howard put together a career that was built on consistency and needs to be celebrated for its quality.

Swan Districts pulled off a remarkable 2010 premiership win but change was afoot in the season afterwards with new talent called upon to keep Swans a competitive outfit, and by Round 1 of 2011, he made his debut and has never looked back.

He was only 17 at that time but it's never mattered. Over the past 11 seasons, he has been a cornerstone of the Swan Districts defence and while rarely attracting the headlines, he was just as rarely beaten and you could count on one hand the games he wasn’t rock solid in.

When that added up to Howard earning life membership with Swan Districts and playing 174 matches then that's something he deserves to be enormously proud of as he now embarks on retirement.

Soon to be a father with wife Shannon and ready for the next phase of his life, Howard announced his retirement following Swan Districts' heartbreaking loss in the elimination final to West Perth and was subsequently chaired off Joondalup by fellow defenders Brandon Erceg and Tony Notte.

Right now Howard doesn’t feel too different, but he's sure the fact that his WAFL career is over will soon hit him.

"At the moment it doesn’t really feel any different and it just feels like the end of a normal season along with everybody else," Howard said.

"But I think probably come December or January when they are getting back together for pre-season then it will sink in then. But at the moment it feels just like the end to any other season really.

"I was trying to hold the emotions in when I was getting carried off the ground but then as soon as I looked over at my wife and she was in the line-up leading into the changerooms, and I saw how emotional she was and that's when it really hit me.

"Then once we were in the changerooms I just sort of let it all out. It was hard then once we were in there and that's when it really hit me."

Matt Riggio also retired after the game for Swan Districts and it was when he made that announcement that the emotions really came out for Howard, but when he reflects, it was telling his best mate Brandon Erceg fresh off the best season of his career that was the toughest thing to do.

"At that time we didn’t actually know it was going to be Rigs' last game and he didn’t announce that until we were in the changerooms and after Pickers had given a speech. But once he got up and said his thing, then the emotions spilled out all over again," Howard said.

"Tony was definitely up there as the hardest teammate to look at in that moment, but the hardest I'd have to say was definitely Brandon Erceg.

"He and I have been best mates since we were 14 years old and until this year we've never got to play a full WAFL season together. So this year was really special for us for that reason because we'd been talking about playing league football together since we were about 16. He was definitely the hardest to tell and it was tough talking to him after the game.

"He is an incredible person and with everything he's been though, and to get back to this level and to be playing as well as he is it drove me on to keep on going.

"This year we both tried to push on each other as much as we could and we know that you go through injuries and what not, but we talk it out and keep each other up and about, and keep each other going."

Speaking of the likes of Tony Notte, Brandon Erceg and Tony Stephens, Chris Jones and a couple of others who went through there, the back-line group was without doubt Swan Districts great strength of 2021 as they returned to finals.

Howard couldn’t have been more proud to be part of that.

"This year was awesome with our back-line. We clicked straightaway as soon as Jonesy came over and he fitted into our back-line perfect," Howard said.

"Obviously with me, both Tonys and Brandon playing together for a few years now too, we had that chemistry and Jonesy fit straight in and we sort of knew from Day 1 that it would be our back-line for the whole year.

"We are a little team inside the team back there and there were a lot of weeks where we were under a lot of pressure with zero rotations and having 60 inside 50s against us. But we just had to hold strong and we all got each other through it pretty well."

Swan Districts did a terrific job to play in their first finals campaign this year since 2017 but nobody at the club was happy to just make it and to make up that fifth position.

That was clearly evident with the way they went about the elimination final against West Perth. Swans were on top most of the game and looked the better side for most of it until the Falcons won on the back of kicking the last goal of the game.

It was a heartbreaking way for the season to end for the team and for Howard's career to come to an end, there's no real way of getting away from that.

"There's a lot of frustration there at the moment and I've talked a lot with Brandon, Jonesy and also Andrew Pruitt our midfield coach who I work with, and the biggest feeling there is just frustration," Howard said.

"We believe we let it slip and there's so much belief in that group and we thought we had what it takes to go all the way this year after what we had worked hard to build the last two to three years.

"We built the squad up and we believe we were right there which makes it harder to go at right now and knowing I won't be part of it next year only adds to that. We had all the belief in the world that we were going to win that game going into it and that top five was that hard to split this year.

"You just look at the game on Saturday as well and it was decided with a kick on the siren, us against South Freo was only a few points in it, we went close to Claremont even when we were missing eight players and even going back we had beaten Subiaco.

"So our talk going into the finals was that we believed we could take down any of those four teams so that makes it harder going out the way we did."

While Howard did begin his career as part of a team that won the premiership the year before, it wasn’t always an easy ride over the last 11 years and that began when he didn’t play in a victory until his seventh league game – Round 22, 2011.

He only ended up playing in 73 wins in his 174 games and just the one winning final in five attempts, so he knows better than anyone how hard it is to be part of success in the WAFL, but he likes the position Swan Districts is currently in.

"The club is in a great position looking forward. Pickers has got all the boys bandied together and the number of young guys we have coming through along with the guys who are AFL talent coming back," Howard said.

"The people who Smarty has been to recruit and bring in just fit in straight away. This squad was built over the last two, three and four years and it's definitely on its way up. I don’t think we are far off at all."

A big part of the reason to retire is that Howard can throw himself fully into life as a father with his wife Shannon due to give birth later this year, but right now it's her taking the retirement decision the hardest.

"I think she's actually taking it harder than me right now and she doesn’t know what we are going to do with all the time, but the fact we are about to have our first child will soon change that," Howard said.

"I would like to stay around the club in some capacity next year, though, and I don’t want to fully go cold turkey on stepping away. I'll still be around the club a lot I reckon.

"Our first child will take up a lot of my time next year as well I'm sure so it will be good to have some extra time freed up to spend with our little boy. This is the next chapter in our lives and I'm sure it will be fun so we have that to look to forward to.

"I don’t know what my football future holds yet though. I'll just take a step back for the next few months to enjoy this off-season and I'm sure I'll be in talks with the club, and I've already had people getting in touch about next year. I'll just take some time away and see what's going to happen."