“I STILL pinch myself I’m in this situation and how good it is.”

If 2019 was about getting used to AFL life for Michael Gibbons, then 2020 - no matter how bizarre it was - was about making an impact.

The story of the dual J.J. Liston Trophy winner has been well established, with Gibbons now, quite simply, a very handy AFL footballer.

Once again featuring in the majority of games for Carlton, Gibbons pulled on the Navy Blue 15 times this season.

It means he’s missed just three out of 39 games since arriving in last year’s supplemental selection period. However, he’s still dirty that he missed out on a full complement of games for the second straight season.

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“The carpet layer groins couldn’t hold up there for a couple of weeks. I blame this one on the long season,” Gibbons told Carlton Media.

“My manager messaged me: I’ve played 36 games in two years and that’s something I never would’ve thought I’d get.

“To be on this path now is pretty exciting, that’s for sure.”

With 11 goals from 15 games and spending more time higher up the ground, Gibbons is one who has thrived under David Teague’s coaching.

After an extra 12 months in the system, Gibbons said it was only natural that he had grown in confidence in his second season.

“‘Teaguey’ talks about it all the time that he backs us in with fun and freedom. It suits me and it suits all of the boys,” he said.

“This year, I felt way more confident and got my mojo going.

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“For me to adapt and be more confident both on the field and off the field in meetings, that was the biggest thing for me and I think that reflected in my footy.”

However, despite the positives to come from 2020, Gibbons couldn’t help but feel a little empty when this interview took place immediately after the season’s commencement from Carlton’s point of view.

Wrapping up his time in the hub, Gibbons felt he spoke for the entire playing group when he said there was a sense of unfinished business as the Blues left the Royal Pines resort on the Gold Coast.

“We started training in November and we’ve been training the whole way through: even though it’s been a long year in terms of that, it didn’t feel like it was the right time to finish,” he said.

“It was definitely a shallow feeling.

“We’ve been in the hub environment for so long. At the start, it was a different way to adjust but then no-one really wanted it to end. We thought we were a much better side than the way we were playing.

“We can’t wait to get back into it.”

Getting to know Eddie

When it comes to learning his small forward craft, Gibbons knew that there’s no-one better to learn from than the man in the No.19 guernsey.

What Gibbons didn’t realise was how much he would enjoy being in the company of Eddie Betts in 2020.

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Once again amongst the goals this season, Gibbons said the opportunity he had to learn from one of the best to ever do it was “something I’ll never take for granted”.

“Eddie is an absolute star of the game,” he said.

“He’s one of the blokes you read about in the media and see in the media: I could never speak a bad word about Eddie.

“He genuinely just wants other people to be happy. I’ve had more fun getting to know Eddie Betts this year than I ever thought I would have.”

The forward line dynamic

Gibbons has consistently said that he wants his football to do the talking, hopefully leading to a spot in the midfield.

However, while he’s in attack, he’s part of a forward mix which he thinks is becoming increasingly dangerous the more they play together.

With the arrivals of Betts and Jack Martin, Gibbons said the fast brand of footy which Carlton has adopted has created a fun atmosphere on and off the field.

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And there’s a certain teammate who he’s definitely feeding off.

“We’ve got a good little mix going on down there: we’ve got some little zippy people and a couple of smart arses in ‘Fish’ and myself,” he laughed.

“I’m definitely pleased with the way I got to play this year. I had some time up the ground and I’m still trying to put my hand up for a midfield role at times I can do that.

“We had guys like Eddie and Jack Martin that came in and helped us play some exciting, fun footy. Jack Martin is going to be a star, he makes that forward line more dangerous and fun.”

Getting his senior nod

While his new contract for 2021 will officially see him on the senior list, Gibbons forgot he was a rookie for his first two years.

Put simply, he was relishing being in the AFL system every week, and wasn’t going to let it slip.

Back again for a third season, nothing changes for Gibbons — senior spot or not.

“I forgot I was on the rookie list. I’m absolutely rapt,” he said.

“I want to be here for as long as I can, to be here with the boys and to see where we’re going. The big thing for me was that it didn’t matter where I got my opportunity, I just wanted one.

“It’s a massive feat for where I’ve come from and it’s something I’ve got to take advantage of and keep moving forward.”