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Gone in a blink - Gibbs on game No.200

Gibbs on 200th and GWS Bryce Gibbs spoke to the media at Ikon Park today ahead of his 200th game in the navy blue this weekend.

Barring injury or an earthquake, Bryce Gibbs completes game No.200 for Carlton at Spotless Stadium on Saturday. At 27 years 102 days, the boy from Brighton High becomes the third youngest of 35 clubmen behind Robert Walls and Lance Whitnall to have done the noble deed. 

The road to Sydney will have taken Gibbs nine years and 85 days, making him Carlton’s fifth 200-game South Australian after Craig Bradley, Stephen Kernahan, Andrew McKay and Scott Camporeale. 

To think that he was elevated to this club’s 11-man leadership group before he’d played a senior game. 

“‘Murph’ and I were but we weren’t,” Gibbs said of that early involvement with the senior core. 

“Murph was only 13 or 14 senior games in and I hadn’t played, but we both thought we could lead. I don’t know whether it was a ploy by Denis (Pagan) to create a bit of excitement about the club because it had been on the bottom for a couple of years, but we sat in on leadership meetings and it was a learning experience for both of us.” 

Like Marc Murphy before him and Matt Kreuzer after, Gibbs went first in League football’s pecking order. A fully-fledged North Melbourne fan (the legacy of his father Ross’s on-field connection with the Victor Harbor Kangaroos), Gibbs’ drafting to Carlton was met with the customary fanfare afforded any No.1 draftee – for this was an elite talent at both under 16 and under 18 state level.

Taking up lodgings at the family home of Shane O’Sullivan out east, Gibbs surely adjusted to life beyond the south Australian border. Having only just obtained his driver’s licence, he and old roommate Mark Austin put the O’Sullivan family Toyota to good use – and more often than not found themselves on the wrong side of the Westgate Bridge as they literally adjusted to life in the fast lane.

Game No.1 came at twilight time against Richmond on Sunday, April 1, 2007, when Gibbs followed captain Whitnall onto the MCG and into the collective gaze of almost 60,000 spectators. Beginning the contest as a benchwarmer, he got the call-up from Denis Pagan and duly booted a goal with his first kick – and he’d barely blown out the candles on his 18th birthday cake. 

Bryce Gibbs on debut in Round 1, 2007. (Photo: AFL Media)

Reflecting on it now, Gibbs suspects he was banished to the dugout for a minor transgression. 

“I reckon I ran late for that one. I was new to Melbourne, I didn’t know what the traffic would be like, and I got caught in bumper to bumper traffic coming in on the Monash,” Gibbs said. 

“I was in the car on my own. That was an awful feeling. The boys might have been in a team meeting when I got to the ground, which wasn’t ideal, and that’s probably why I started on the bench.” 

Carlton emerged a 17-point victor over Richmond in that one, and Nick Stevens earned three Brownlow votes for his troubles. In time, Gibbs would himself earn a Rising Star nomination and by season’s end his club’s best first-year player award and a top-10 finish in the John Nicholls Medal count - and cast his first vote in a Federal election – the “Kevin 07” election as it was dubbed, by way of a postal vote which made its way back home to Adelaide.

Fast forward to game No.100 – the Round 12 match of 2011 involving Brisbane at the Docklands – and Gibbs went in having missed but one senior appearance in five seasons. 

Bryce Gibbs celebrates a victory in his 100th AFL match. (Photo: AFL Media)

That game guaranteed the presence of the Gibbs moniker with those of Stephen Kernahan and the late Brian Buckley at locker No.4, and it’s fair to say game 300 is now within reach - just as it was for Bradley, Doull, Nicholls and Stephen Silvagni.

Gibbs, to be sure, has never considered Kernahan’s No.4 a burden. 

“The Kernahans were family friends before I got to the club so it worked out perfectly,” Gibbs said. 

“I’ll probably never do what ‘Sticks’ did in terms of being the great goalkicker or great captain that he was, but hopefully I can put my little mark on it that when people look back on the No.4 jumper they can recognize it for what ‘Sticks’ did, for what Bosustow did and maybe for what I did.”

Ditto, his No.1 draftee status. 

“It’s the way it is,” he said. “You’re going to cop external flak all the time, whether you’re the No.1 draftee or on the rookie list if you’re not performing at a consistent level – which I have had happen at certain times, accepted, moved on and tried to get better.” 

It is here that Gibbs acknowledges the substantial influences of all four Carlton coaches – Pagan, Brett Ratten, Mick Malthouse and Brendon Bolton – a man who comes to Carlton with “an amazingly modern and professional outlook on the game”. 

“‘Bolts’ has not only helped the players with our footy, but also with our learning in general, particularly for the younger guys. It’s impressive”. 

“For ‘Bolts’ to come in a time when the club decided last year to put up its hand and start again rather than go the quick fix was the best thing the club could have done – and I think it’s showing with the whole club buy-in and the sense of belonging.”

Bryce Gibbs, who is in Carlton's seven-man leadership group this season, says he's loving his footy under coach Brendon Bolton. (Photo: AFL Media)

For the most part, footy’s been fun for Bryce Gibbs. But there were intermittent periods through 2015 where even he struggled with his lot.

“For the first time in my career last year I struggled at times with the way the team was going, the way my personal performances were going and coping with longer-term injuries I hadn’t faced in almost ten years,” Gibbs said.

“These were new challenges I had to get my head around and there were days where I felt ‘I don’t know I could be bothered going in there today’, which I never thought I’d get to.

“It is here I give credit to Dean Laidley for not only helping to take my football to a new level, but for helping me with the mental side of my game as well, which was an area I hadn’t really tapped into enough.

“And if you look what we’re doing now in terms of mindset and mental preparation it’s such a part of the game.”

Though he’s first to admit that games 1-199 have gone in a blink, he also understands that much has changed both on and off the paddock in the nine years since his senior debut.

Through the course of 2016, Gibbs has been truly deserving of all the plaudits that have come his way. By his own admission he’s playing with an “urgency around the footy” – a capacity to attack the contest rather than float – and yet he still stops short of declaring himself to be the complete player.

“I’ve still got a few things to get right,” Gibbs insisted. 

“Even in recent times I’ve been a bit disappointed with the way I’ve gone about it (and) I’m still not at the level I’m happy with.”

But Gibbs is striking the balance. As a new father, he appreciates that the role may have brought with it a new equilibrium, for as he says somewhat candidly: “It’s not about me anymore, which it’s been for a long part of my life”. 

Happy 1st Charlie boy

A video posted by Bryce Gibbs (@bgibbsy4) on Jun 13, 2016 at 2:22am PDT