Once a Red, always a Sky Blue: Brendan McKibbin is making his mark

Two years ago, NSW Waratahs halfback Brendan McKibbin was running around in the red shirt of this weekend’s opponent Queensland. A star performer for the famous Brothers club side, he’d come through the Academy ranks for his state to earn four Super rugby caps in 2009, but wasn’t making headway at the rate he had hoped. Cue Waratah assistant coaches Michael Foley and Scott Bowen.

After watching a few of McKibbin’s dynamic displays, they’d seen enough to approach him with a view to making a move South of the border, and into sky blue territory. It wasn’t the first move away from his roots that the 25-year old-halfback had made. Born in Irvine, Scotland, a coastal town 25 miles South West of Glasgow, McKibbin’s parents moved the family to the warmer climes of Brisbane before his 3rd birthday. His Dad had played football [soccer], but with the round ball game a comparative minority sport in Queensland at the time, young Brendan decided to pick up the pill and run with it. Thankfully, he’s never looked back.

“I started at under 7’s and went up with my age group, so I’ve been playing rugby since day dot and very much enjoyed it,” he explains. “I started off as a flanker and migrated to halfback when I didn’t grow anymore!”

And that’s one of the more extraordinary things about McKibbin. He’s only worn the no.9 shirt for five years. In that time, he’s captained Brothers to a Brisbane Premiership – winning Man of the Match honours in the Grand Final in the process – won the Alec Evans medal for best and fairest in the Brisbane competition, and in his first year in New South Wales, won the Ken Catchpole medal as the best player in the Shute Shield.

Add in those caps for Queensland, his recent ascendancy into the Waratah ranks, plus a stint at Saracens in England under the guiding hand of Eddie Jones, and it’s quite a resume to have under his belt in such a short space of time. He’s certainly a player going places and it was his own belief in his potential progress that fired his move to Sydney. But he recognises this season as being pivotal in terms of breaking through to the big time.

“This year, the expectation for me was to get on the field for the Waratahs, pushing the other two half-backs as hard as I can,” he says. “We did that last year, constantly competing and pushing each other for those spots and this year is no different. The competition’s great, it’s good for the team I think and I’m glad I’ve been rewarded for a bit of hard work with a bench spot. I’ve been really stoked with the progress but it’s now coming into a position where I need to put it all together for Super Rugby.”

His parents still live in Brisbane’s north and thankfully, they were relatively unaffected by the recent devastating floods. But on Saturday night when tributes will be paid to those who lost their lives and livelihoods, and funds are raised for the clean up campaign, McKibbin’s thoughts will be with the people and the area he left behind.

“It was terrible,” he recalls. “Other people we knew were affected, and to know the places around that area that went under water, it was pretty disturbing. You go to those coffee shops all the time in places like Rosalie. My Dad’s work at Milton went right under so they’re still cleaning up, but it’s all good now. There was a lot of help so it wasn’t too bad – everyone pitched in and helped. There were almost too many volunteers at one stage!”

So, with his emotions resting North of the border, how will he feel if he gets a chance to step out onto the field against his former home state on Saturday night?

“As a former Queenslander, you always look forward to the Reds,” he smiles. “They’re often slugfests, but with more local derbies this year, the games are going to have to open up. You’re going to have to score points, you’re going to have to throw the ball around and you’re going to have to score tries. I’m looking forward to playing Queensland, I have no doubt that, just as much as against any other side, as long as I’m representing the ‘sky blue’, I’ll be happy.”

So it’s official, you’re a former Queenslander?

“Former Queenslander? Yeah, that’s official, you can quote me on that!”

First published by Ruggamatrix on February 24th, 2011

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