Broadbeach youngster Joel Wilkinson has been signed by the Gold Coast AFL club, turning a short-term sporting love affair into the realization of a life-time dream.

Monday, 18 October, 2010

Wilkinson, a one-time track & field sprinter of part-Nigerian heritage, has been claimed by the AFL’s 17th franchise as a Queensland zone priority selection just two years after he turned his sporting focus to Australian football.

The 18-year-old from Elanora on the Gold Coast confirmed his selection with a standout performance at the recent AFL Draft Combine (formerly Draft Camp) after he’d trained with the Gold Coast club on a trial basis in July-August during the latter stages of their VFL campaign.

“This means absolutely everything to me,” said the 186cm defender/midfielder, who captained the Queensland U18 side this year before a collarbone injury in June ended his 2010 season.

“To have a chance to be a professional athlete is something I’ve dreamed of my entire life. And to be able to do it while still living at home is quite surreal.

“As soon as I started training with the (Gold Coast) I fell in love with the club and knew it was where I wanted to be. The boys, the coaching staff … everyone was just so supportive and it’s going to be an exciting place. To be able to help make the Gold Coast Suns a respected club both on and off the field is something I take great pride in.”

Set to join an influx of Gold Coast newcomers at Carrara next Monday (18 October), Wilkinson is excited about everything to do with his step up to professional ranks – especially the chance to train alongside Gary Ablett.

“It’s as good as it gets – there’s nothing better than a chance to learn from the best,” he said.

“But personally I’m just looking to train as hard as I can over the pre-season, learn as much as I can, and see what happens during the NAB Cup.”

Wilkinson, studying biomedical science studies at Griffith University with a view to becoming an orthopaedic surgeon, has dedicated his AFL draft selection to his No.1 fan and mother Julie, who has raised three boys single-handed over the past nine years.

“She’s been unbelievable to me – I can’t thank her enough,” said Wilkinson. “I know this is only the beginning and I’ve still got a long way to go, but every step I take along the journey will be due the support my Mum has given me for longer than I can remember.”

Born in Sydney but a Gold Coaster from age four, Wilkinson was one of the standout performers in a vigorous testing regime at the Draft Combine in Canberra late last month, breaking two sprint records.

He clocked a scintillating 2.75 seconds to break a long-standing 20m sprint record set by Port Adelaide’s AFL Rising Star winner Danyle Pearce in 2004, and topped the field in the repeat sprint, in which each player was clocked six times over 30m in two minutes, with a 10-second recovery.

Wilkinson’s domination of the sprint events was a throw-back to a strong junior athletics background. Wilkinson was a renowned 100m/200m sprinter, long jumper, high jumper and triple jumper in his junior days while also representing the Gold Coast in tennis, soccer and cricket.
Incredibly, he’d never played AFL until mid-2008. And but for a never give up streak and a strong level of self-confidence and commitment he may never have played the game which is now his primary sporting focus.

“I’d done athletics for a long time and was just over it in 2008. I wanted a change. My first thought was actually rugby league but when I looked at my schedule it didn’t fit so AFL was my other choice,” he explained, attending Palm Beach High School at the time.

“I’d always wanted to play AFL, too, so I went to the PE teacher at school and asked if I could join his program. He thought I was joking and told me to nick off.

“But a couple of days later I went back and told him ‘I really want to do this’ and when he realized I was serious he welcomed me into program.”

In fact, Neil Mackay, head of the PBC AFL School of Excellence, did much more. As soon as he saw the raw athletic potential of Wilkinson with an AFL football in hand he knew he had something special.

He telephoned then AFL Queensland State Talent Manager Mark Browning and suggested he take a look for himself. He did. And so began a meteoric rise of fairytale proportions.

In his first year in the game in late 2008 Wilkinson was invited to join the Queensland U16 Young Scorpions as an over-age player. He finished up first emergency for the national carnival after a scheduled practice match against Victorian Metro was washed out, but was taken to the championships for experience.

He joined Broadbeach in 2009 and his first season in club football won the Cats U18 B&F. He also represented the Gold Coast Stingrays at U18 level, and made the Stingrays All-Star side.

This year he was co-captain of the U18 Stingrays at the State Championships with Southport pair Regan Salter and Dalton Tucker before captaining the State U18 side. He also made his senior QAFL debut with the Cats, and finished equal fourth in voting for the QAFL Rising Star Award, won by NT Thunder draft hopeful Zephi Skinner.

Wilkinson admits he had been a closet AFL fan in a household dominated by other sports before he began playing, and lists Brownlow Medalist Jason Akermanis as his first AFL hero.

“I was always interested in AFL but my brothers gave me a bit of a hard time because they were into other sports,” he said. “I still used to watch the Lions on TV on a Saturday night, but whenever somebody would come along I’d quickly change channels so they wouldn’t know.”

Not for long. And not at all any more.

Wilkinson, who boasts silky skills and a natural flare running with the ball off half back despite his limited AFL experience, says he loves “everything” about his new-found sporting love.

“I find it more demanding than other sports and I prefer that,” he said. “I always wanted to be tested more physically and AFL tests you in so many different ways.

“I’ve always loved team sport and this is my passion. The support I get from everyone around me on and off the footy field is what helps make me succeed. My Mum, friends, coaches, teammates and everyone associated with AFL Queensland has allowed me to achieve what I have to this day.” 

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