Michael Gibbons had been overlooked in six AFL drafts, including 2018, but a new AFL rookie rule implemented this year provided Gibbons the AFL lifeline he had been dreaming of. He spoke with AFLPlayers.com.au after signing with Carlton about his arduous journey to the AFL, what it means to be on a list and the support he’s received from his Carlton teammates.
You’re coming to the tail-end of your first AFL pre-season, albeit through a different route via the SSP. How was it? As challenging as everyone says they are?
I definitely agree when people say AFL pre-seasons are challenging now because I’ve gone from working full-time to then training in the afternoons, which I thought was pretty hard, but now training flat out five days a week, along with meetings and every other requirement of being a footballer makes it definitely as hard as everyone says.
You mentioned it briefly, but how else did it compare to the pre-seasons you experienced in the VFL? How have you found yourself pulling up given the increased workload?
Surprisingly, the body has been feeling pretty good considering all things, especially given the workload that’s been put into us with Andrew Russell coming over to Carlton this pre-season. The workload has been massive but luckily enough the body has pulled up well and I’ve been recovering well for each session which has helped me enough to impress and get on the list.
Carlton published a video in the aftermath of your signing being announced. It was clearly an emotional time but how did that feel for you and having your teammates support?
Yeah, that was pretty special. I had no idea that it was coming so for the boys to react and swarm me the way they did, they didn’t know it was coming either. To watch that the next day actually gave me goose bumps so it was a pretty special moment for me.
At what point did you get a sense that Carlton were going to sign you as a rookie or did it all come as a fairly big shock?
It all came as a massive surprise on the Friday. I had been given notice that unless they signed me I wouldn’t be able to play JLT or the other practice match against Hawthorn so I had those conversations with our football department and just took everything away from that and that the decision wouldn’t be made until the end of February. Obviously they were just playing their cards close to their chest at that point. It was more of a surprise to me.
Did it help having Matthew Cottrell in the same position as you at Carlton? I imagine that support that you were both facing unknown circumstances was really important?
Yeah, definitely. Obviously it was pretty tough. I say tough and the opportunity they gave us was incredible, but living in limbo there for a little bit and a couple of months not knowing what was happening can get you down at times, but the boys rallied around us and made us feel welcome and a part of the club the whole time. Once you’re training there you don’t have a second thought about it.
What players in Carlton’s group took you under their wing and showed you support during that time?
From Crippa (Patrick Cripps) down. He was great for me and to welcome me around but then from Daisy (Dale Thomas) as well as a more senior head. I knew Caleb Marchbank and Matt Kennedy so I had a fair idea of a couple of lads but then once I got to know them all they’re all very like-minded and made me fit in really well.
The spotlight has shone brightly on you in the lead-up to, and aftermath of, the AFL draft. How did you manage that pressure and expectation publicly but also on yourself?
Yeah, it’s a bit of a difficult one. Obviously the media and everyone who tweets and supports me only wants the best for you but definitely at times when I missed out on it again and I had people tweeting me saying I should’ve been drafted it can definitely get you down a little bit and make you feel frustrated. Again, I know that everyone that does it and says things only wants the best. They’re support has been amazing.
Since signing with Carlton have you felt a level of that pressure somewhat subside knowing that your hard work has gotten you to a point where you’re able to prove yourself in club land now?
I think so to a point. It’s been such a long road for me and I’ve had to persevere so many times after so many rejections so you start to question yourself. When I got the news on Friday I think it gave me a sense of validation that all my hard work was worth it. After that we had a four-day break and were back into the club on Wednesday so now I’ve got to actually focus on making a career. I’m here now and I don’t want to give it away.
When you speak about those rejections, how did you deal with those setbacks? Was there a mentor or someone you sought advice from to help you work on areas of improvement that were perhaps highlighted to you by AFL recruiters?
Yeah, Andy Collins who has been my coach at Williamstown has been great for me. He’s given me some great advice and feedback throughout the years. He’s also allowed me to work on things that he’s noticed or feedback he’s had from recruiters. Also for me just finding some balance in my life and realising that there is more to life than football has been massive for me. All of my mates and my girlfriend and the way they’ve supported me throughout the disappointment and also the success now has been first-class.
Looking forward to the 2019 season, what roles have been flagged for you at Carlton and where do you see yourself playing?
Hopefully just make the half-forward or as an on-baller and crack in and play a role like Kane Lambert does for the Tigers. That’s what I’ll be looking to do.
Off the field, what does your life look like?
I’m part-time at university too and have been for the past couple of years so I’ll be able to continue my Bachelor of Business whilst at Carlton. My main hobby is water-skiing and wakeboarding but obviously with the hysteria surrounding that I won’t be able to do that too much anymore! I’ll definitely be putting that on the backburner.
Thanks for the chat Michael and I look forward to seeing how your career unfolds.
No worries, thank you.