After playing 65 games for North Melbourne and 160 games for Hawthorn, today Josh Gibson announced he is hanging up the boots, drawing to a close a stellar career which saw him win 3 Premierships, an All-Australian guernsey and 2 Best and Fairest awards at the Hawks.
In fact, when thinking back to Gibson being awarded his Peter Crimmins medals, both in premiership years, I can’t help but think how similar the two players were in terms of their inspirational courage and their self sacrificial acts of valour which have sent chills down the spines of many onlookers. Both players were ‘Hawthorn through and through’ when donning the jumper, which had an immense influence on their team mates. Every player around them knew they were giving their all to the opposition and their all for the club in the pursuit of victory.
Crimmins, aptly nicknamed ‘the Little fella’ due to his slight frame, had no hesitation in going where devils feared by diving head long into milling packs to win the ball. Similarly, the undersized Gibson went third man up in contests in a helter skelter fashion to spoil opposition marking efforts. Gibson was akin to a soccer striker, having no care for self by diving into a crowded penalty area in the hope of scoring by getting his head on the ball, regardless of the possibility of having it kicked off.
The ironic thing about Josh Gibson is his underated nature. His name is rarely at the forefront of fans’ conversations when they reminisce on the great Hawks dynasty of 2013-15. His 3-peat team mates, such as Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell and Cyril Rioli will likely get mentioned well before Gibson is even considered. It seems the curse of defenders to not be paid their dues, despite how important they are to a team’s success.
One could go so far as to rate Gibson as the missing link for the Hawks when recruited to the club from North Melbourne in 2010. The immediate thought was for him to fill the clubs’ issues in key defence. But Gibson’s ability to fulfil dual roles was a large contributor to the team’s success that followed.
Gibson was marshalled primarily as a 7th defender in a zone off role loose in the backline where he earned his moniker, ‘the golden fist’ in honour of his imperious spoiling efforts. This allowed smaller players to be played in the key posts to accentuate the teams’ rebound when the ball hit the ground. Gibson’s high skill in reading the play allowed him to squat down attacks with his pivotal interventions.
On the flip side he became the kick starter of the lethal uncontested game style that scythed through oppositions during the teams’ dominating period. The first link in the chain, he facilitated the teams’ lethal transitional play. Gibson’s perfect timing enabled him to utilise his free role to ignite an attack. When going forward, his delightful foot skills impressed with their surgical dissection.
Gibson’s perfect positioning meant he was never caught between defence and attack. He always displayed a high level of dexterity in marrying the dual aspects of his role, which is testament to his footy IQ.
At the height of his career, one could go so far as to rate him as the most crucial component of the Hawthorn juggernaut as well as arguably the most influential player in the AFL.
A fan favourite, Josh Gibson’s dazzling Hollywood smile will forever live in the hearts of every Hawthorn supporter and it is fitting that I end with the mental image of that smile, as during his amazing career, he has provided plenty for us all to smile about.