By TOM BOSWELL - goldcoastbulletin.com.au
When recruiters told Tom Wilkinson he wasn’t mature enough to join an AFL list after being overlooked at the national draft as an 18-year-old, the small forward was left frustrated and confused.
Four years on Wilkinson has joined North Melbourne after being selected with pick 41 of the rookie draft by the Kangaroos.
“It was just pure elation,” Wilkinson said of the moment he refreshed his AFL app to see his name on the screen.
“I’m lost for words and over the moon.”
Wilkinson, now 22, conceded he thought recruiters, some from North Melbourne, got it wrong when he was 18.
A year later he won the best and fairest award at TAC club Sandringham Dragons but missed out again.
“I thought my dream was over,” Wilkinson said.
“When I won the best and fairest and still didn’t get drafted, that was probably the most heart breaking thing because I didn’t know what more I could have done.
“A big hit on me when I was 18 was that I wasn’t mature enough.
“I didn’t understand what that meant back in the day but I can definitely see what they were talking about now.
“Recruiters knew what they liked and didn’t like on field but maybe it was my general decorum and how I went about life as a young kid. I was at boarding school at the time and really independent.”
Wilkinson took a year off from football in 2016 and joined VFL club Williamstown in 2017 but didn’t get consistent opportunities at senior level.
He needed a change and it led him to the Southport Sharks where Wilkinson booted 36 goals to help lead the club to the NEAFL premiership this season.
It was a career defining move for Wilkinson who drew the attention of Kangaroos recruiters who decided he was finally ready and took him as their only mature-age recruit.
“They said they had been following me intently this year and really liked what they saw,” Wilkinson said.
“They said I had turned all the deficiencies from my under-18 year around.”
Whispers of the interest in Wilkinson grew throughout the season in football circles but even after meeting with club officials a fortnight before the draft at North Melbourne’s Arden Street headquarters, he refused to get his hopes up.
“It all happened so quickly. There were a few whispers here and there but before that I didn’t think anything was going to happen,” Wilkinson said.
“I have been pretty nervous in the last couple of weeks. You try to keep a level head but it all worked out in the end.”
Wilkinson credited the influence of Southport Sharks coach Stephen Daniel who he said possessed the quailty of an AFL coach.
“He is the best coach I have ever had,” Wilkinson said.
“I felt really comfortable around him and really relaxed. He didn’t put too much pressure on me or any of the players and let us play our natural game.
“I really do think he could be an AFL coach.”
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