Is Josh Gibcus the AFL’s John McClane?

I am 25 years old as I sit down, ignoring work, to write this.

Some quick maths will tell you that I was not alive in the 1980s. I didn’t see Richmond’s 1980 flag against the Pies and I wasn’t there eight years later when die hard premiered in theatres.

I have, however, seen die hard. I have also seen the first seven games of Josh Gibcus’ career. I see some parallels.

Let’s start with the action movie landscape in the 1980s. King Bill Simmons wrote a 2014 article for Grantland titled ‘The Action Hero Championship Belt’ where he essentially goes through from 1968-2014 to determine who the biggest action hero was for a given year.

It was a phenomenal gimmick from the GOAT. But the key point is not how good of an idea this was by ‘Billy Boy’, instead the key point is who held the belt from 1980 until 1988 when the wise-cracking New York cop with marital troubles burst into Nakatomi Plaza on Christmas Eve .

In 1980, the champ was the man who helped bring karate and ginger biceps to the masses, Chuck Norris. Sly Stallone took the belt from him in 1982 when he played the quiet, disaffected and very jacked John Rambo.

Then, two years later, the even bigger man Arnold Schwarzenegger swooped in from Europe – also very jacked – to play roles like the Terminator and Conan the Destroyer.

Arnie held the belt until ’86 when Sly wrestled it off him because of his seminal performances in Snake and Rambo: First Blood Part II (the name remains deeply confusing) in what was billed as the battle of the bulging bicep.

Then in 1987, the big Austrian swooped back in to retake the belt until 1987.

What have all of Norris, Arnie and Sly got in common? They are gigantic men.

But in 1988, who took the belt with the best action movie protagonist performance ever? Our man Bruce Willis, playing John McClane.

Bruce was in good shape playing John McClane but you would not mistake him for a pterodactyl like you might have if you caught a glimpse of Arnie’s lats in the right light.

Bruce looked like the guy you see on the beach doing push-ups, begging for some female attention. In good shape, clearly, but not built like a very shredded refrigerator.

He looked like a normal guy who had seen the inside of a gym but was also a person outside of his physique. He looked in good shape, but regular.

So what does all this have to do with Josh Gibcus? I’m glad you asked. We have now arrived at the concept of my piece here today.

Josh Gibcus

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Let’s have a look at the key forwards drafted in the last five years in the top ten and their measurables:

2021 AFL draft
Sam Darcy: 205 centimeters, 94 kilograms

2020 AFL draft
Jamarra Ugle Hagan: 195 centimeters, 90 kilograms
Riley Thilthorpe: 201 centimeters, 100 kilograms
Logan McDonald: 196 centimeters, 86 kilograms

2019 AFL draft
Luke Jackson: 199 centimeters, 94 kilograms

2018 AFL draft
Max King: 204 centimeters, 90 kilograms
Ben King: 202 centimeters, 87 kilograms

2017 AFL draft
Aaron Naughton (drafted as a back but playing forward): 195 centimeters, 93 kilograms

2016 AFL draft
None taken

These are, by and large, mammoth men, with the exception of Jamarra Ugle Hagan, who has been disappointing. This is in large part because he lacks the requisite size to be a key forward and doesn’t make up for it in the way someone like a Bayley Fritsch or Jack Riewoldt can with agility, intelligence and an otherworldly nous for leading into the right spot .

Gibcus, by way of comparison, is 196 centimeters and 87 kilograms. He is smaller than every single one of the names on that list except Ugle Hagan, who has been a major disappointment, and Logan McDonald, who has played only 12 games after two and a quarter years in the system and has kicked only 13 goals.

That is hardly setting the world on fire. Gibcus, however, has set the world on fire in his first seven games.

Gibcus, like McClane, walked into a hostile environment and said, ‘I’m the man’. McClane walked into Nakatomi Plaza, soon to be overrun by terrorists wearing tailored John Phillips suits and sick fake IDs, but more broadly walked into an action movie landscape full of massive men who would beat him in a fight.

Gibcus similarly walked into the defensive 50 full to the brim of young, massive, tall forwards as a spindly and relatively small man himself and said to his most recent victim Brody Mihocek that he’s, ‘Just a fly in the ointment [Brody]. The monkey in the wrench’.

Beyond their status as physically similar animals, it’s the way they win that’s so impressive. While McClane used C-4 and a machine gun to avoid tussles that he knew he couldn’t keep winning, John McClane’s key talent is his ability to remain calm and rationally think through challenging situations.

Gibcus is the same way – preternaturally calm. Sometimes this calmness puts him in harm’s way, like it did in the third quarter against Collingwood last week when he was run down, but by and large it holds him in good stead.

Richmond draft pick Josh Gibcus poses for a photo

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

He reads the ball beautifully off the boot and understands, unlike Darcy Moore, when to punch and clear the ball and when to take the mark and get the game back on his terms.

He is aggressive but not stupid in the way he goes about it. Also, Darcy Moore is electric to watch when he’s cooking but when he’s not he is reminiscent of early-career Alex Rance getting monstered by Travis Cloke, when made to be accountable.

There was a lot of 2013 Cloke to Lynch’s performance in the first half when Moore was playing on him.

The two men are small, composed and resourceful. McClane was able to spot trouble from a mile away and use Hans and minions’ aggression against them, notably in the scene where he gets the machine gun off Karl’s brother.

He knows Karl’s brother is going to turn on the lights because he knows Karl’s brother heard him, so he gets away from where he was while the lights are still off, comes up behind Karl’s brother and kills him. Now he has a machine gun and some cigarettes. It doesn’t get much more resourceful than that.

Gibcus is the same. He’s not absurdly strong nor especially fleet of foot, though he is a decent athlete. He gets by with nous and extremely strong aerial ability given his diminutive frame of it.

You can just see him reading the footy better than Jeremy Cameron off Joel Selwood’s boot and yelling ‘yipee-ki-yay’ as he springs straight up and attacks the ball while Cameron runs underneath it again.

While John was obsessed with cowboys and was kind of partial to Roy Rogers, you get the sense that Josh was a big Ned Kelly guy and was kind of partial to Mel Gibson when he was doing Gallipoli and Mad Maxnot shouting epithets.

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