Wilkinson's rise to the top
People in football have long seen the qualities in Alex Wilkinson – the person and the player.
People in football have long seen the qualities in Alex Wilkinson - the person and the player.
Reliable, dependable, respected - they are all words you can easily slot into a sentence alongside the Central Coast captain's name.
It just took a while to convince Wilkinson he had the makings of a leader.
"I remember when I made him captain of the Northern Spirit youth team and he sort of looked at me as if to say 'Me? Sure you've got the right guy?'," former Spirit defender and youth team coach Phil Moss recalled with a laugh.
"Probably because he was fairly quiet off the park, 'Wilko' didn't really see himself as a leader."
"But it was pretty obvious even back then. Lawrie and the Mariners obviously saw those same qualities."
Wilkinson was seen as the right 'fit' for the Mariners right from season one, anointed captain as much for his off-field persona as his playing ability
The 187cm central defender has gone on to make a record number of appearances for the club (82) and wears the armband with great pride.
"Leading the boys out is a big honour. There are a lot of natural leaders at the club so to be chosen captain of this club is not something I would ever take for granted," he said.
"It is something I have grown into and something I cherish."
Wilkinson is one of the 'faces' of the game on the Central Coast.
And while he has stopped short of McKinna's famous backyard barbies for the fans - "I don't think my apartment would fit them all," he smiled - Wilko is a regular in the shopping centres and schools of the Central Coast.
In five years he has seen a lot of change - all for the good.
"When we came up here four or five years ago no-one knew who the Mariners were, no-one knew any of the players," he said.
"The players and coaches have made a big effort to get out in the community and do a lot of coaching and school visits."
"It's great to see people walking around shopping centres with Mariners jerseys on and asking us how we're going and talking to us about the games."
"The support has been fantastic."
"To be there from day one and watch the Coast grow from nobodies to having a successful team in the A-League is great."
Off the pitch, Sydneysider Wilkinson is enjoying a more laidback life on the Central Coast.
"Coming from Sydney and then going back there, you think 'God, it's a rat race' with all the traffic and people," he said
"You don't notice it until you get out."
"You don't get that up here. The lifestyle is great, especially in summer."
"We don't get too much time away from soccer so when I do I like to catch up with mates and spend some time at the beach and relax."
"Hopefully I will learn to surf one day."
But the board won't be seen for some time as the Mariners look to build on a promising start to the season.
A shock first-round victory over Melbourne - Central Coast's first win in 2009 - was followed by a 1-1 draw with Newcastle in the F3 derby.
Arch-rivals Sydney FC will put the unbeaten record to the test when they travel the same stretch of highway on Saturday afternoon.
"We're pretty happy with the start. We're undefeated after two games and if before the season we'd been told we have four points at this stage we would have taken them," Wilkinson noted.
"Games against Sydney have produced a lot of good matches and a lot of goals and are usually exciting spectacles."
"Hopefully they will bring a lot of fans up and all the Central Coast locals turn out."