In true defender fashion, Callum Wilkie is more than happy to shirk the limelight and instead let his actions on-field do the talking.

Unfortunately for the no-fuss backman, the seemingly constant cavalcade of accolades after being plucked as an unassuming mature-age rookie selection with an accounting background in late 2018 to history-making Saint has showed no signs of slowing down.

This week, the fanfare is inescapable. St Kilda’s very own ‘Mr Reliable’ graces the front cover of this week’s AFL Record in commemoration of his latest accomplishment, officially surpassing St Kilda’s consecutive games record held previously by premiership player Ian Synman and 2010s staple Jack Newnes.

It’s an achievement that came incredibly close to never eventuating, however. After being overlooked in consecutive drafts as a teenager, Wilkie had just about put his dream of an AFL career in the bin and was instead preparing for a life that didn’t have football at its centre.

Fortunately for Wilkie – and in a larger sense all involved with St Kilda – the confidence to roll the dice one more time (with a push from then-North Adelaide coach, Josh Carr) in the hopes of making it to the big leagues has been more than worthwhile.

“There were times where I doubted myself a lot. Back in the SANFL, I felt the AFL dream was long gone and it was about setting myself up for a career that wasn’t footy,” Wilkie told

“I’d spoken to a few clubs when I was in the U18s year and you see everyone else in the SA team get drafted… it wasn’t a great feeling. I don’t think mum and dad knew how much it hit me because I really sheltered them away from it. As men, we bottle it up and I didn’t really share those feelings with anyone.

I tried to accept it and say I wasn’t good enough, which to be fair I probably wasn’t at the time. It was tough, but you just had to go on with it.

- Callum Wilkie

“You start to get talking to other people who believe in you and instil confidence, and Josh Carr at North Adelaide really did that. He ignited the fire in me to give it one last crack.

“It’s a game I’ve loved since we were seven or eight. That’s what you bring yourself back to and what everyone loves about footy: it’s a job and you get paid, but we’re playing the game we’ve always loved playing, and you can sometimes lose that passion. I feel that’s what really reignited the spark back in me, just how much I loved the game.”

What a strong, burning fire that one spark has since created.

Reinvigorated, the 22-year-old Wilkie knuckled down in the hopes of earning an AFL lifeline through pure perseverance and hard work. The rest, as they say, is history.


It’s been said countless times before, but with each passing month Wilkie’s incredible tale pushes out further and further into mythical territory. The 28-year-old is still yet to miss a senior match after making his debut in round one, 2019, and within that time has earned All-Australian selection, captained the Saints as stand-in skipper twice (the most recent in the club’s 150th Anniversary Game at the MCG last season) and finished runner-up at the Trevor Barker Award in consecutive years.

Sure, there’s been a little bit of luck on the injury front along the way. Wilkie jokes that the reason he doesn’t get injured is because he doesn’t actually move fast enough to risk tweaking anything and subsequently being forced to the pine.

But there’s no secret ingredient behind the meteoric rise. Instead, at the backbone has been a constant accumulation of hard work, a sharp resilience and relentlessness which hasn’t tapered despite the individual heights reached, and a laser-like focus on ticking off each challenge and milestone in his career.

“I just wanted to be the best football player I could be. Whether that was playing SANFL or whatever, you could walk off at the end of your career and be happy and satisfied that you’d given it anything,” Wilkie said.

You get everyone patting you on the back saying how good the journey’s been, but in the back of your head you’ve got those goals of being the best player you can possibly be. I knew from there I hadn’t fulfilled that yet.

- Callum Wilkie

“Getting drafted that dream was somewhat realised, but you haven’t played a game yet. You look to what’s next (after being drafted) and then you hit the next goal, and that’s playing.”

Coming into RSEA Park, Wilkie knew his time was finite. There was a short window to impress being a rookie mature-ager with a one-year contract and absolutely no guarantees of a second.

As had been his mantra, Wilkie’s mind turned towards fulfilling the next goal: playing a game. One became two, two became three. Before he knew it, Wilkie had played every game in his debut season. But the adulation was well and truly parked in Wilkie’s eyes as his next ongoing goal materialised.

Callum Wilkie has continued to make an impact after arriving at St Kilda as a rookie selection. Photo: St Kilda FC.

“To get that chance which I never though was going to happen was huge, but that’s when the hard work starts. You’ve got to come in against 40 players who are probably better than you and show them and show the coach why you should be picked,” Wilkie said.

“Coming in on a one-year deal you don’t get a second chance. You’ve got to come in and press straight away. I learned from a few of the senior players and being older at 22 (coming in) helped, but I was lucky enough to get here.

“I reckon if I got picked up at 18, who knows what would have happened, but I probably didn’t mature in terms of my body and as a person until I was 22. I was going to university, working full-time while juggling semi-professional football, you really learn about yourself. Those life lessons you can really take and put into football.”

As Saints backline coach Corey Enright said just before he ran out for his 100th straight game, Wilkie knows what it means to put on the guernsey, deepened by that arrival as a mature-age selection who knows what it means to grit the teeth.


Rarely has Wilkie had his colours lowered each time he’s pulled on the jumper. It makes it particularly difficult to single out any one of his games as a clear standout such has been his consistency. He’ll tell you it was his 66th game with a Jordan Dawson-inspired right-to-left kick which snuck in for his first goal (the only one of his career so far), umpires will say his 24-disposal, 12-intercept and two-Brownlow-vote masterclass against Gold Coast in his 89th, while his coaches would find it too hard to single out any one game; there’s been that many. That’s all just a part of his terrific story to date.

The No. 44 is one of a number of St Kilda’s rookie draft success stories in recent years, rounding out the trio of Jack Sinclair (2015) and Rowan Marshall (2018) whose importance to the line-up in present day can’t be disputed.

Wilkie is firm in his belief that no one is ever going to be the perfect footballer. What he may not have in terms of theatrics that are boasted by some of the game’s greats is certainly made up for in his unquestionable reliability in defence, oftentimes punching well above his weight division. The little spoils, nudges, blocks, knocks and one-on-one wins have all added up, painting the picture of a player whose dependability has never been lessened.

If Wilkie continues his trajectory, he’ll reach the 150-game mark towards the tail-end of the 2025 season, but before then might very well have another All-Australian blazer or have even snared his first club Best & Fairest after finishing runner-up to Sinclair in the past two seasons.

Whenever it’s all said and done, Wilkie will no doubt look back on those distinctions with pride after successfully carving out a career that no one ever expected to be so fruitful from an individual sense, let alone transpire after being overlooked for so many years.

Of course, he’d give it all up in a heartbeat for his team’s grandest triumph, but it shouldn’t diminish the incredible efforts he has mustered over the past six seasons.

“I love being able to play week in week out. The streaks are nice, but I love being able to run out with my teammates every week,” Wilkie said.

“Hopefully I can look back on my career whenever that is – hopefully I’ve still got a long time left in the game! – and know I’ve given everything and given it the best shot to be the best player I can be.

“I feel like I’ve still got so much more to give.”