2016 J.J. Liston Trophy winner: Michael Gibbons
2016 J.J. Liston Trophy winner Michael Gibbons is compiling an enviable list of individual Peter Jackson VFL honours, but it’s those around the Williamstown midfielder who he credits as keys to his success.
21-year-old Gibbons burst onto the football world’s radar when he claimed the Norm Goss Medal as best-on-ground in Williamstown’s VFL premiership victory last year.
Demonstrating that performance was no flash in the pan, the 177cm on-baller played all of Williamstown’s 21 games in 2016, including his 50th senior VFL match in the Seagulls’ semi-final defeat of Sandringham. He averaged 29 disposals, seven clearances and six inside-50s per game, and was the VFL’s top-ranked player for total disposals, uncontested possessions and inside-50s during the home-and-away season.
Gibbons also won the Frank Johnson Medal for the VFL’s best player in May’s State Game against the SANFL, an occasion he described as one of his “best experiences ever” in football, having fulfilled a pre-season goal to make the Victorian team and play alongside some of the players he idolised growing up.
But like many young footballers, Gibbons’ VFL journey started with the disappointment of missing out on being drafted into the AFL as an 18-year-old.
At the age of 16, he moved with his family to Albury from Coolamon, NSW (near Wagga Wagga) to play for the Murray Bushrangers in the TAC Cup. Gibbons captained the club in 2013 but his AFL dream wasn’t realised later that year. As when they moved to Albury, his parents had Gibbons’ football future in mind when they then pushed for him to relocate to Melbourne.
“When I was 18, I put all my eggs into one basket – getting drafted,” Gibbons said at the recent VFL Best and Fairest night. “When it didn’t happen, I think Mum and Dad wanted to get rid of me so they sent me down to Melbourne.
“I don’t think I had much choice in that but it’s worked out pretty well.”
Once Gibbons arrived in Melbourne, it didn’t take long for Williamstown senior coach Andrew Collins to convince him Burbank Oval was where he wanted to be.
“I really took a liking to ‘Collo’ and ‘Dicko’ (football manager Chris Dixon) and the other boys down there,” Gibbons said. “‘Collo’ really backed me from the start. He really wanted me, just showed complete confidence in me and he’s probably the main driving point as to why I’m at Williamstown.
“(Also,) there’s such a great culture down there. All the boys are there just to win a flag. Everyone’s there for the right reasons and no one sulks; everyone just gets in and gets it done.”
Indeed, his teammates have contributed profoundly to Gibbons’ rise through the VFL.
Now-retired Seagulls vice-captain Cam Lockwood initially helped Gibbons secure work in Melbourne as a labourer while he completes his business management studies.
The departure of Adam Marcon due to being rookie-listed by Richmond last year opened up a permanent midfield opportunity for Gibbons in 2016.
And then there’s his on-ball partners-in-crime: ruckman Nick Meese and fellow midfielders Willie Wheeler and Seagulls skipper Ben Jolley, a group Gibbons understatedly said “rolls pretty well” together when on song.
Gibbons’ collection of honours – J.J. Liston Trophy, Norm Goss Medal, Frank Johnson Medal and premiership medallion – is unprecedented in VFL history, but he knows his individual success wouldn’t be happening without a little help from his friends.