For St. Kilda defender Callum Wilkie, his approach and attitude to every week of his AFL dream is as pure as it gets.
“I love playing football.”
For the 25-year-old mature age recruit from North Adelaide, there was every possibility he would never play one AFL game.
After being overlooked at the draft for four years, Wilkie would be selected by St. Kilda with pick three in the 2019 rookie draft.
He has gone on to play every game possible since his debut in round one of the same year, including two finals in 2020.
Reflecting on the journey to 50 games, Wilkie is looking back to where it all started, both at the Roosters in the SANFL and his junior club the Walkerville Cats.
“They [Walkerville and North Adelaide] have been huge in my life,” he told media on Monday.
“I spent a long time at both of those clubs throughout my juniors and then a long time at North Adelaide. That probably shaped who I am as a person and as a footballer, so I owe a huge credit to them.
“It feels weird now thinking about not playing AFL.
“The last two and a half years I’ve been part of it so it feels like the norm now. Feels weird looking back on a time when I wasn’t, but it wasn’t that long ago.”
Wilkie’s meteoric rise from state league obscurity to one of the national competition’s most consistent defenders has been an incredible journey.
Not even he was expecting to play 50 games as quickly as he has.
One of the biggest challenges for Wilkie has been adjusting to the level of dedication being a professional full-time footballer requires, however it’s now something that he couldn’t imagine living without.
“When I got drafted I probably didn’t think this was going to happen so quick so it’s nice to get these little personal accolades,” Wilkie said.
“[I’ve learned] a fair bit. I didn’t have too much exposure to what the AFL life was like before, playing state league footy.
“The whole professional lifestyle of ‘this is your job’ and this is where 100% of your focus has to be, whereas prior probably 30 or 40% of my focus was on football.
“Knowing that footy is a big part of your life, but then also the work/life balance, you’ve got to have something outside of footy to take your mind off it sometimes.”
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With injuries and positional swaps at various points in the season to experienced defensive heads in Jarryn Geary, Jake Carlisle and James Frawley, Wilkie has found himself faced with more responsibility in 2021.
Having been promoted into the leadership group so soon into his career, he’s taking on the challenge with both hands.
“It’s funny in a way, I’ve just reached my 50 games and I’m considered a leader down there,” Wilkie laughed.
“I guess that’s just sort of the personality I am, and that’s why I’m good at footy, being able to help others and see the game.
“Being able to help those young guys like Coff [Nick Coffield], Hunter [Clark] and all them. Me and Dougal [Howard] try and be the wise heads and help others down there.”
Though every player wants a win in their milestone games, Wilkie and the Saints are faced with a tough opponent on Friday night.
Geelong is coming off a demolishing of reigning premiers Richmond, one of the in form teams of the competition and raising its hand as a flag threat.
The forward line combination of Jeremy Cameron, Tom Hawkins and Gary Rohan proved to be nightmarish for the Tigers backline, kicking 15 goals between them.
Wilkie says his backline group is up for the challenge.
“That’ll be a big task for the backline, but we’re up for it,” he said.
“It’ll be a big night… but these are the games you want to play in the season.
“You want people to be looking forward to these games, these are the games you have pencilled in. It’s going to be a big crowd, it’s going to be on Friday night.
“You want to be put in these pressure situations and see how you handle them.”
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