1 on 1: Wilkinson

The skipper steering the Mariners towards season four glory.

Alex Wilkinson has been a mainstay in the heart of the Central Coast Mariners- defence since the Hyundai A-League started in 2005.

During that time he has grown in stature becoming club captain in season three, having filled the role admirably when required in season two.

Having contributed the most caps for the club, a Mariners team without Wilkinson on the team sheet is a rare sight indeed.

Though injury disrupted his season in 2007/08, Wilkinson is now fresh, fit and ready to lead his side again in season four.

Wilkinson tells www.ccmariners.com.au about the pre-season campaign, the Mariners- new recruits and the expansion of the Mariners brand.

How do you rate recently completed pre-season campaign?

We have exhausted all options in getting to play games and to get the team right. Clarkey has been working us hard outside of the games and the boys are looking quite sharp. All the boys are looking quite fit and we-ve nearly got a full team coming back for the early games in the season. I definitely think it has been a successful pre-season.

You have been playing under an injury cloud with your knee, how is it?

It-s alright now, it has been a bit sore here and there which is why I have been taking training a bit easy over the last few weeks. As long as I can get it right for games, it-s been OK. It-s starting to get better and definitely feels better than it has the last couple of weeks. Hopefully it will continue to do so and I will be able to start the season injury free. The first half of last season was disappointing for me being out with that injury for about ten weeks so I-m hoping it doesn-t happen again this year.

How hard was it to get over the disappointment of losing the Hyundai A-League Grand Final to Newcastle, particularly with you being the captain?

Obviously losing the Grand Final was disappointing, it-s happened twice to a lot of the boys in our team now so that makes it doubly hard. We-ve got a new set of boys in here this year and as soon as the pre-season training started we all had to forget about what happened last year and get focused for the new season. I think we are over it and we are ready to go for the season ahead. Yes it was disappointing but to put it into perspective last year was by no means an average year for us, we won the Premiership and qualified for the AFC Champions League and hopefully we can do it all again.

The club has made some positive movements in their recruitment policy ahead of the coming season with one eye obviously on the AFC Champions League post-season. How have the new players fitted in?

Very well, a lot of the boys knew the players from past teams or from past experiences where the paths have crossed so that has made it easy for them to settle in. Dylan has had a great pre-season, he-s looking very fit and banged in a few goals so that-s great for his confidence. Ahmad Elrich has looked great as well. Last year coming back to Wellington he didn-t have a full pre-season because of a knee injury so he is doing very well as well, looking as sharp as he-s ever been. Adrian Caceres is a great attacking weapon for us and we look forward to seeing him on the pitch as well putting in some nice crosses for our strikers.

Speaking of Asia do you think there is a risk of the team getting too far ahead of themselves? Melbourne struggled last season as they came down from season two. How do you stop complacency?

No, I don-t think that will be an issue. Asia is obviously still a long way off and we have the entire Hyundai A-League season to get through before we can prepare for that. The coaching staff have kept us well grounded and the focus is definitely on the season ahead. The aim is to get a fast start similar to last year to get points early in the season. When the time comes hopefully the boys will be fit and injury free and then we can start to get excited about Asia. Qualifying was obviously a big coup for the club and I look forward to some big Asian teams coming to Bluetongue Stadium and our Members and supporters getting to experience that different style of football.

You wrote in a recent captain-s corner in the Express Advocate about the importance of gaining a psychological edge over your opponents before the season has begun. With only 8 teams you must be familiar with each team-s games by now. How difficult is it to gain momentum in this competition?

It-s tough, twenty one games isn-t ideal. With the Hyundai A-League expanding next year the season will be longer which from a playing perspective will be great. The good thing about a small season is if you do get on a roll you can suddenly shoot up a few points on the ladder. That happened to us last year when at one stage we were seven or eight points ahead which is good because it means you have a bit of breathing space so you can drop a few games if you have a dip in form.

As the club moves into season four, what traditions have you seen develop over this period of time?

First and foremost we are a family oriented club, we-ve been able to create a family atmosphere at Bluetongue Stadium. I think that is a reflection of the hard community work we did from day one. We do a lot of school visits a lot of club visits, and I think that-s starting to pay off now with increasing crowds here at home. On the pitch we have developed a tradition of working hard for each other. It makes it easier knowing that there are ten other guys all working for the same goals you are. Those are the two main traditions and hopefully we can develop a few more in the coming seasons.

With the development of the National Youth League and the Westfields W-League announced recently, how is this going to expand the Mariners- brand?

I think it-s fantastic. The National Youth League is a necessity it had to happen. Up until now, the 16-18 year old age groups had nowhere to go. If they didn-t come straight into a first team when they hit that awkward age then they missed the boat and had to head elsewhere. It-s definitely a positive move by the FFA and it-s good for over age players coming back from injury to get a run in the National Youth League to build up match fitness. The Westfields W-League is a great idea as well. The women-s game has been crying out for a semiprofessional league for a while now. The game is continually growing. You saw that with the Qantas Matildas at last year-s FIFA World Cup going down narrowly to Brazil. It-s a great idea to give something for young women to aspire to.

The club has been able to attract some big name players in recent times including Tony Vidmar, John Aloisi, and Mark Bosnich. What do you put this down to?

I think we-ve got a good reputation in Australia at the moment. We are thought of highly I think. I mean that-s how Johnny came last year. He spoke to his brother Ross who said if you don-t come to Wellington look at coming to us. I think a lot of it is down to the coaching staff we have and Lyall Gorman and Peter Turnbull-s ambitions to chase big name players. Having Bosnich here is fantastic for the club he is one of the best goalkeepers Australia has produced and he passes on amazing knowledge to the boys.

What are your goals for the upcoming campaign?

To stay injury free is my main goal. Last season being injured was very disappointing. On a team note getting into the top four again is a goal and if we can go one better then last year, well that would be the icing on the cake.