Powerful recruit Mitch Hibberd says a strong season back in the midfield at Williamstown has him primed for his second chance at AFL football.
Initially drafted by North Melbourne in 2015, Hibberd played four games for the Kangaroos before being delisted at the end of the 2018 season following a challenging run with injuries throughout his four years at Arden Street.
The 23-year-old responded brilliantly this year, thriving with greater opportunities on the ball with the Seagulls where he used his running power to great advantage.
The tall and tough onballer was one of the league’s leading midfielders, averaging 24.3 disposals and 6.9 tackles and hitting the scoreboard with 10 goals.
Hibberd was named in Williamstown’s best players in 11 of his 20 games, including in the side’s heartbreaking three-point Grand Final loss to Richmond where he collected 25 disposals on the big stage to cap off the impressive season.
“It was nice to step back into the midfield and play to my strengths,” Hibberd said on Monday.
“I’m pretty confident having played against AFL-listed players and for me (my approach is to work) day by day and train as hard as I can, and I haven’t thought too far ahead.”
Hibberd’s season was rewarded with a spot on the wing in the VFL Team of the Year before he was snapped up by the Bombers with pick 10 in last Friday’s NAB AFL Rookie Draft.
It made him the fifth Seagull to be drafted in the last two years – following in the footsteps of Lachie Schultz and Brett Bewley (both Fremantle), Michael Gibbons (Carlton) and Ben Cavarra (Western Bulldogs) – and the recruit said the impressive run is a credit to the standalone club’s strong program.
“There has been a lot of success out of Williamstown – that’s five (draftees) in two years. Their program is fantastic down there and they do it just as well as the AFL clubs do.
“I’ll still be a Williamstown person and still watch them a lot, because I’ve got some great mates and the coaches down there I’m super close with.”
Williamstown general manager of football Stephen Soulsby praised Hibberd and expressed the club’s pride in playing a key role in the midfielder’s second crack at the top level.
"As a footy club we're extremely proud to have assisted Mitch in getting an opportunity at AFL level.
“Whilst it is sad to see him go, we wish him all the very best for his new AFL journey with Essendon," Soulsby told williamstownfc.com.au.
Hibberd celebrates a goal from teammate Nick Mellington in Williamstown's preliminary final. (Image: AFL Photos)
Hibberd feels he is now better prepared for the rigours of the AFL system and is looking forward to sinking his teeth into the pre-season.
“When I was 18, I was playing catch up (after) a few injuries. Now I feel like I’m ready for a full pre-season and just to get stuck into it with the boys,” he said.
“For me it’s a lot about (gaining the) respect from teammates and coaches and all of those relationships.
“Just be a good teammate and the rest will just take care of itself.”