Author: Martin Blake
Publication: The Age
James Gwilt is not one for idle chatter, focusing instead on what matters, writes Martin Blake. IT'S NOT often you get an audience with "The Quiet Man of St Kilda". "I just like playing footy," says Jimmy Gwilt, by way of explanation for his near-total absence from the normal media circus over eight seasons of playing for the Saints. "When I get asked, I'll say something. But I'm not one to talk for the sake of talking."He has managed to carve out a career (81 games) for just two Brownlow Medal votes and no rave reviews, even when he stood firm at the back in two grand finals against Collingwood in 2010."Do the job, go home" is his mantra. Increasingly, he is achieving his aim, yet not much is known of him. His father Jason, a decent footballer and cricketer, met Gwilt's Papua New Guinean mother, Nasain, while he was posted to Port Moresby working for Westpac years ago. In the AFL's multicultural round, Gwilt is the only player who can claim PNG heritage (Mal Michael is the only previous PNG player of note).Gwilt never feels that he has made the grade, although he was eighth in St Kilda's best and fairest last year. "I've always thought and I still think now that I've never really made it," he said this week. "I almost think from week to week that I'm only one bad game from getting dropped."So much so that Gwilt, who ditched an apprenticeship in landscaping when he was drafted in 2004, has been studying at TAFE to become an electrician. "Footy doesn't last forever, I guess. I wanted to have something I could go straight into after I finish."In some ways, Jimmy Gwilt (no one calls him James, save for his mother) was not meant to be as good as he is. He was a fourth-round draft pick at selection 63, and a shock one at that.St Kilda's veteran recruiter John Beveridge plucked him from Noble Park, on the strength of a decent grand final performance in an Eastern Football League premiership, and an endorsement from his coach, Denis Knight, who told Beveridge that Gwilt was calm in traffic. He didn't play in the football factory of the TAC Cup under-18 competition, although he trained with Sandringham Dragons. At the time, though, he wanted to pursue cricket as well. As an all-rounder with Noble Park in the subdistrict competition, he had done enough to graduate to Casey-South Melbourne in Premier Cricket. "I always wanted to pursue both up to the point where I had to make a decision. I trained once a week at Sandringham but I couldn't really do pre-season because cricket was a big commitment. I wanted to do both."Beveridge took the decision out of his hands when he snared him in the 2004 national draft, under the nose of Carlton recruiter Wayne Hughes, who was on the board of Noble Park and who had persuaded him to nominate. How the height-challenged defence of Carlton could do with a player of Gwilt's strength and concentration and calm right now.Gwilt averages 19 disposals a game coming out of the back half, and dishes them out at better than 80 per cent efficiency. Unerring left-foot kicks are his preferred method. "I've always had the size and I guess the athletic ability and the skills," he said. "It was the maturing, getting to know what sort of work I need to do to play. It's the pre-season work and the running, knowing my ideal weight and 'skinnies' [skin folds]. It's all preparation. I got into a routine that I know works for me and I try to stick to it."Gwilt reached 98 kilograms at one point. Now he is 93. "I was doing too many weights," he said. "I'm probably not the best aerobically. I've worked on that. But it's more to do with agility and speed. Carrying that extra four or five kilograms, you notice it when you have to back up every day."St Kilda's sports psychologists have helped him, despite his early reluctance. So did Steve Silvagni, the full-back of the century who spent the past couple of years on the coaching staff at St Kilda before shifting to Greater Western Sydney. "He [Silvagni] was my main go-to. He was brutally honest at times when I wasn't going well."St Kilda has regained its confidence as a team and Gwilt, too, has played good football in recent weeks. Tonight, he will have a key role on one of West Coast's tall forwards possibly Jack Darling, or Quinten Lynch, or Josh Kennedy.For a time, St Kilda could not extract itself from the maelstrom of a tumultuous off-season. "All those three or four things maybe subconsciously might have been an issue to some of the boys," he said. "I think we were on track but [it was] probably the mental side more than anything."Now, he feels the Saints have worked through their difficulties of April and May, which he relates to battle fatigue from near-misses in 2009 and 2010. "Personally, you work so hard during the year and you sacrifice so much, whether it be not drinking or not going out with your mates . . . especially second half of the year because you know finals are coming up. It was a bit of a blow to think you worked so hard and not get anything for it."