Belfast Telegraph

Sports Awards

Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards: Mike Gibson a true Ulster legend

By Steven Beacom

In an interview with modern day Irish rugby legend Brian O'Driscoll last year, a smile lit up his face when I mentioned the great Mike Gibson. Then words of the highest praise shot out from the Dubliner's lips.

O'Driscoll said: “At times when Irish rugby wasn't successful Mike was always the shining light. He played international rugby for 15 years and that speaks volumes about him. He was a magnificent player and a true ambassador for the game.”

And so say all of us.

Gibson, a gentleman and a scholar as well as one of Northern Ireland's favourite sporting sons, was inducted into the Belfast Telegraph Hall of Fame last night at our glittering Sports Awards ceremony.

Gibson, who will be 70 this year, received the warmest of receptions from those in attendance at the ceremony as he walked towards the stage to collect his prize.

It was appropriate that the iconic Jack Kyle was there waiting to congratulate his friend.

Dr Jack Kyle and Michael Gibson — the two finest Ulster rugby players of all time standing together.

What a picture. What a moment.

The modern day Ulster rugby heroes, who did us all proud with that fantastic Heineken Cup victory over Leicester Tigers on Friday night, applauded along with everyone else.

Gibson enjoyed a brilliant career. Capable of creating all sorts of magic from the back line, especially at centre — the position for which he is most renowned — he was a sensationally gifted individual. Yet he was also the ultimate team player.

Centre he may have been, but he was not one who wanted to be the centre of attention, forever paying tribute to team-mates.

Educated at Campbell College in Belfast, he showed his prowess as a young man turning out for North and Ulster.

He recalls: “I would play games only using my left foot or my right foot and develop a strength in each area and then concentrate on getting the basic things right such as taking a pass or making a pass.

“Then there was the thinking bit which is all about making decisions — I believe that facet separates players.”

Gibson's thought process was invariably ahead of the rest, as he went on to star for Ireland and the British and Irish Lions, after studying Law at Cambridge University.

He first played for Ireland as a 21-year-old in 1964, becoming a mainstay of the team during a stellar international career that didn't end until 1979 having amassed 69 caps.

Had Mike been around today with the amount of games played all over the world, staying at the top for 15 years would easily have earned him far more than 100 Irish appearances, although it wasn't until 2005 that his record haul of Irish caps was overtaken, which in itself illustrates his longevity at the top.

Gibson, who was awarded an MBE for his services to rugby, also featured on FIVE British & Irish Lions tours, including the momentous and victorious trips to New Zealand in 1971 and South Africa in 1974.

His final test for Ireland came when he inspired a victory in Australia at the age of 36. Even then his undoubted class was evident, just as it was last night.

Cameron Michael Henderson Gibson is well worth a place in the Belfast Telegraph Hall of Fame.