Fans Players

Players’ Voice — Tom Wilkinson

I’ll remember last Friday for the rest of my life.

The rookie draft wasn’t televised or streamed so we were sitting around a table, with our phones unlocked and the AFL application open, frantically refreshing it every five seconds hoping my name would pop up.

When it finally did, with the 41st pick, we all put our hands on our mouths and didn’t say a word for about 15 seconds.

No words can describe that moment. It was the best feeling ever.

For me, there were no nerves during the National draft as North Melbourne’s head recruiter Mark Finnagan had told me if there was a spot available, it would be on the rookie list.

It wasn’t until 5pm when the rookie draft started that my nerves started to kick in.

My journey to the AFL has been arduous, starting back in 2014 when I nominated for my first AFL draft after my top-age year in the TAC Cup.

After missing out on the draft I made the decision to return to the Sandringham Dragons for a final season as a 19-year-old.

I thought my season had been pretty solid, I’d won the best-and-fairest and played consistent footy, but when I still didn’t get drafted I was pretty flat and wasn’t really sure what more I could of done.

After the disappointment of missing out for the second year in a row, I made the decision to take a year off.

I deferred university and travelled Europe for seven months to see where my life was at.

When I came back I realised I still wanted to play at a high level and see if I still had it in.

I played at Williamstown in the VFL development league for a season and I thought I had been playing decent footy but I didn’t have as many opportunities as I would have liked, and that was part of the reason I made the decision to move to the Gold Coast.

The second reason, was purely that I needed a different scene.

I had been in Melbourne my whole life, I attended boarding school at Melbourne Grammar, and had been around the city for a long time.

I enjoy surfing and so the idea of living on the Gold Coast and playing for Southport appealed to me.

I had some friends already living up there who were from Melbourne, so I moved in with Mike Manteit, Josh Clayton and Tyler Roos.

Photo credit: Glenn Hampson/ Gold Coast Bulletin

Southport had a number of former AFL-listed players who I was able to seek advice from.

Andrew Boston, Ryan Davis and Seb Tape had all been in the Gold Coast system and played plenty of games so they were really helpful for me throughout the year.

The Southport coaching staff were incredibly helpful in me realising my dream of playing AFL too.

Before joining Southport, I had played most of my football as a midfielder or high half-forward but after round six this year the Sharks assistant Matthew ‘Skinny’ Lappin chucked me in the forward line.

It changed my game.

That’s when I started kicking goals and playing good footy.

We both knew that being a forward was my new home.

Although I kept kicking goals and playing good footy, I couldn’t put a time on the exact moment when I thought I might have been a sniff for the draft.

Since I started playing as a pure forward, I think that’s when I knew I still had good football in me.

Photo credit: TJ Yelds/ NEAFL 

Transitioning back into Melbourne life has been really easy.

The first year draftees and I are living together for a week in a house in Coburg.

I know the lay of the land in Melbourne pretty well, how everything works and the footy culture, so it’s been really easy to fit back in.

One of my teammates, Bailey Scott, is also from the Goldy so I’ve been driving him around and showing him what it’s all about.

In some regard, I feel like a big brother or a father-figure, if you will, of the other boys given I am a little bit older than them.

I’ve been in their shoes before and I know what they’re going through moving out of home so it’s been going to share some of my knowledge with them.

Despite missing out on the draft during those years, it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for me.

I learnt so much during that time and had so many good life experiences, especially from that year travelling.

I was fortunate enough to experience the best of both worlds.

I tried my luck getting drafted again, and I did, which is great.

I’ve seen the world and I’ve done it all but now it’s time to knuckle down and make the best of my career with North Melbourne.

Feature image: TJ Yelds/ NEAFL