There aren’t many more reliable players at St Kilda than defender Callum Wilkie, but he says the key to the club’s success lies in a change of priorities.
St Kilda defender Callum Wilkie believes the pain – but crucial learning – that came with the Saints’ bitterly disappointing campaign in 2021 is key to their rise this year.
And coach Brett Ratten is central to that.
Much has been made of St Kilda’s all-club mid-season reunion in Sydney last year, where some local truths were broadcast from all directions.
Ratten has since admitted that he, too, used commentary and was willing to adapt, one aspect being a greater emphasis on defense, which fits with Wilkie’s success story.
The 50-year-old remains out of contract, but the shaky ground the manager seemed to be on after the Saints’ Round 1 loss to Collingwood is a distant memory as his side sit in sixth place with a record of 6-3.
“It’s been amazing,” Wilkie said of Ratten.
“He has a lot of good people around him and he just understands the game well. but he also understands the players and has good relationships, which is a very important part of head training.
“I feel like you have so many different roles within a football club than managing people and trying to get the best out of them, which I feel he does, is probably the most important thing.
“He also learned a big lesson from last year, in terms of how our pre-season went and the messages he gave us in 2021, and he probably had to reflect on that and it has given him real clarity about his training. .”
Wilkie, who was elevated to the leadership group prior to last season, is doing his part to encourage his teammates to adopt a defensive spirit with his voice and actions.
It’s working, because only four clubs have conceded fewer points than St Kilda in 2022, after Ratten’s men were midway in that category a year ago.
“I feel like we’re a very good offensive team and we have a lot of threats and offensive talent,” Wilkie said.
“It comes naturally to a lot of people, like ‘Gresh’ (Jade Gresham), Jack Higgins, Zak Jones, all these guys, and I’m not saying they’re bad defensively, but I feel like our mindset has changed to, ‘Defend first, win second. contest’.
“The media likes to talk about how Saints football is good to watch when we’re awake, but it’s very much about competition and defense.
“You look at the best teams that have won premierships in the last 10 years, and they’ve all been top five, top six defensive teams, so that’s what we aspire to be.”
Wilkie has played all 72 games since St Kilda took him out of the SANFL and an accounting firm in the 2018 rookie draft, finishing seventh or better in the club champion award in each of his three seasons.
He’s on track to keep up the trend after another fine defensive display in the Saints’ Geelong loss on Saturday night, which included covering Jeremy Cameron and earning 10 third-period eliminations.
Wilkie continues to go unnoticed outside the club, but that’s okay with him.
“I’m happy to be away from the spotlight and be the underdog,” he said.
“I don’t have too many flashy qualities about me that the media likes to inflate. I’m just trying to play my part and help the team get the win.
“As long as the Saints are good, that’s good enough for me.”