Sunday 26 March 2017

Lions mastermind Gibson finally gets recognition he deserves

Sean Diffley

That the International Rugby Board have only now got around to adding Mike Gibson to their Hall Of Fame is not all that surprising, I suppose. They seem to act promptly and effectively only when they appoint mistake-prone referees to important matches.

Gibson is, by any standards, one of the greatest players the game has produced -- 69 caps for Ireland and five Lions tours. If one was to select a blessed trinity for Ireland, Gibson would be one of the leaves of the shamrock with, of course, Jack Kyle and Brian O'Driscoll.

Do I remember his great tries? Strangely enough, my favourite Gibson intervention was his contribution to that famous "criss-cross" try at Twickenham when he made his debut for Ireland in 1964. A diagonal run towards the left, a transfer of the ball to centre Jerry Walsh running right, and a further transfer from Walsh to the incursive right-wing Pat Casey, who scored under the posts.

That match was hailed, even by the Fleet Street broadsheets, as "one of the best, most fluid internationals at Twickenham for many years". The Irish scored four tries that vivid afternoon, two by Kevin Flynn. Casey's one and Noel Murphy's contribution.

Did I, in my safaris around the rugby pitches of Ireland, recognise the latent genius about to be unleashed upon us? I must confess, I did not.

A phone call one weekend in the early 1960s from Peter McMullan, then rugby correspondent of the 'Belfast Telegraph', told me about a youngster of immense possibilities from Campbell College, who was now with Trinity in Dublin, but was changing to Wanderers because of selectorial dissatisfaction.

So I watched this 19-year-old, that Saturday, playing centre for the "Chaps" and with a judgment about as remiss as the captain of the Titanic failing to spot the iceberg, phoned McMullan to accuse him "of believing your geese are always swans".

The big difference between Gibson and Kyle was that Kyle operated by sheer instinct. No team-mate knew what Kyle would do next, even Kyle himself, but whatever it was it was brilliant.

Gibson in contrast knew, fractions in advance, what he would do next. Discussing the passages of play with Gibson could be disconcerting because he had a virtual photographic recall of every incident which would disarm even the mildest of questioning.

Another try he instigated was at Twickenham in 1972 when Flynn, partnering the great man in the centre, with great perception and dash took advantage of an English midfield defence mesmerised by the very presence of Gibson.

When the 1971 Lions in New Zealand were winning the series, the Fleet Street seers lauded out-half Barry John to the skies.

But it was the expert viewing for the BBC by Cliff Morgan who put matters in their correct perspective. He made it clear that it was Gibson, with his subtle play and his unselfish team work, who was masterminding the displays, not the more spectacular figure inside him.

Irish Independent

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