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Alex Wilkinson for the Johnny Warren Medal

The idea of a defender winning the Johnny Warren Medal is a little absurd right? Past history tells us that it is.


Well almost, with Milan Ivanovic the only defensive man to have won the award in its 26 year history.


He was the second winner, since then, strikers and attacking midfielders have held sway.


In the A-League era, the medal has been shared amongst a variety of quality, attacking players, from Bobby Despotovski in 2005-06 on the back of a magnificent season with Perth Glory, through to Nathan Burns wonderful and often unsupported performances with the Phoenix a couple of seasons back.


The quality of Thomas Broich earned two awards in 2011-12 and 2013-14, only split by a young superstar named Marco Rojas, who has continued to grow and might just add another medal to his collection in season twelve.


Most recent winner Diego Castro, hasn’t matched his consistency of last season in 2016-17, yet with the boys from the west building momentum and starting to threaten the top four, he still has time to land a few timely blows before seasons end.


What they all have in common is attacking flair and the brand they produce is the source of the entertainment they provide for us, the fans.


Of course, who wants to turn up and watch defenders sliding in and successfully stifling attacking forays all night? Without brilliance up front, football just isn’t football.


This season has seen new attacking options make their mark; Bobo, Neil Kilkenny and Tim Cahill (technically new) have all formed part of the attacking narrative and the goals per game stat looks healthy (2.95gpg).


When you add these names to the immense talent already embedded in the League in Besart Berisha, Bruno Fornaroli, Marco Rojas, Jamie McLaren, Rory O’Donovan and Roy Krishna, A-League fans have plenty to cheer about in the front third.


Whilst football is very much about the goals, the patience sometimes required to see them and the sheer ecstasy upon their arrival, the men at the back play a vital and often unheralded role in the stories that unfold.


Not the sexiest of tasks defending, spending your life bodied up against a little whippet, intent on running you off your feet every minute or so, or taking constant head knocks, as a result of launching fearlessly into aerial contests.


It’s hard work. As a right back, I speak from experience. Unfortunately, I probably worked a little harder than many others. I just wasn’t that good.


Considerations around when to step up and engage the off-side trap, constant fears around getting ‘caught square’ and looking a fool with your three mates as an attacker streaks toward goal are all occupational hazards for the defender and come with the territory.


As is being watched and scrutinised by a hawk-like referee ready to pounce on a clumsy challenge or a subtle, and of course, unintentional, shirt tugging.


Sydney FC has a defensive record beyond reproach and with constant personnel changes it is remarkable what they have achieved. Due to transfers, injuries, suspensions and coaching strategy, seven different men have spent time in the back four.


Michael Zullo and Rhyan Grant have been superb on the flanks, providing run and thrust. Matt Jurman was in career best form, hence his move to Korea. Aaron Calver and Josh Brillante have filled in ably and not weakened the Sydney wall one iota.


Sebastian Ryall looked very good until the bad injury on the Central Coast and the arrival and acclimatisation of Jordy Buijs hasn’t exposed any cracks in the defence.


The Mariners should be proud of their performance on that day as they became the only team to breach the Sydney goal twice this season. With a little luck they may have grabbed a third.


Watching Alex Wilkinson at close quarters that afternoon got me thinking about just how vital a key defender is.


When viewed in isolation, he is the model defender. Tall enough to combat the aerial threat, yet blessed with an underrated and considerable turn of speed that allows him to track back as well as any defender in the competition.


Watching Wilkinson this season has been a pleasure. Not only is the basic skillset impressive and the experience blatantly obvious in the way he crafts and organises the back four, his mannerisms and demeanour are impressive.


He exudes total calm, control and poise; unflappable and stoic, all the while managing to keep his yellow card count lower than those around him.


Whilst both Grant and Zullo have spent time on the pine thanks to excessive fouls, Wilkinson sits on two cards and considering his minutes and his infrequent removal from the game by Graham Arnold, this is an impressive stat.


His career has seen him compile two A-League titles, an Asian Cup and selection in the K-League best eleven in 2014. He has briefly worn the Captain’s arm band for the Socceroos and played in the 2014 World Cup.


At thirty-two, there is still some very good football ahead and the sky blues will be pleased they have him for at least another season.


There is a clear argument that Sydney’s defence is the MVP of the competition right now. Melbourne Victory has started to roll offensively, Brisbane Roar looks balanced at both ends, without being brilliant, and Melbourne City, despite not achieving consistency, still has the potential to beat all three on their day.


If we acknowledge that the defence of the boys in blue is the most dominant feature of the competition right now, does it not stand to reason that its pulse, Wilkinson, be right in the hunt for the Johnny Warren Medal?


If we look at the betting market he is nowhere in sight. In light of the attacking bias present in most individual honours, Milos Ninkovic looks an almost sure thing and nobody would begrudge Ninkovic that honour. Rojas looks either the danger, or the front runner depending on your opinion.


I will be fascinated to see where Wilkinson finishes when the votes are tallied. If he isn’t in the top ten, there are serious question marks around the definition of ‘best on ground’ or ‘mvp’.


Defenders round has just past and the mirth and merriment enjoyed by commentators around the ‘skills’ and ‘assets’ of the men at the back is all good natured and collegial.


Yet in a more profound way, appropriate recognition of our best players irrespective of position, should be the ultimate goal.


I’m not saying he will win, but I could mount an argument to suggest he should.


Who knows, even a ‘keeper might win a Johnny Warren Medal one day.

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