Blacktown City striker Joey Gibbs believes a second consecutive strong season for his club will be the key to a possible return to the A-League.
The former Western Sydney Wanderers foundation player has struggled to settle at a team, with stints overseas in Belgium and Hong Kong among extended time in the NSW division of the National Premier League at Manly United, Marconi Stallions and APIA Leichardt.
Following a short spell in Hong Kong, Gibbs joined Blacktown City in 2015, where he scored 16 goals in 18 appearances to take Blacktown to the top of the NSW Premier League, gaining a place in the NPL Finals Series.
The Blacktown talisman credits his team-mates for his outstanding form in 2015. "Sixteen goals in the league for me was something I am quite proud of but I owe a lot to the quality of players around me in the Blacktown FC squad. I think it was a mix of playing for a team who created chances for the (number) 9 regularly and just the fixing up of little things in my game which helped me a lot."
After being heaped with praise over his excellent form, Gibbs remains humble about his hopes of returning to the A-League. "It's something I would like very much and feel if I have another good season I wouldn't be far off. I feel there's a lot of quality players in this league who deserve a shot at playing in the top division of Australian football," Gibbs responded.
Gibbs himself made his A-League debut while becoming the youngest player to play in an A-League Grand Final after coming on in extra time for Sydney FC against the Melbourne Victory in 2010. That was Gibbs' only appearance in the competition for two years, until he was a successful triallist to join the Western Sydney Wanderers in their inaugural season. The striker could only manage two goals in thirteen games for the Grand Finalists and was released to Newcastle at season's end where he scored on debut ahead of playing another three matches.
After a taste of life in Hong Kong with Tai Po FC, Gibbs' return to Australia with Blacktown City has sparked a rich vein of form which helped lead the club to win the National Premier League Finals.
The new format of the NPL Finals Series was introduced in 2013 and involves the table-topping teams from the ACT, NSW, Northern NSW, Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria divisions. After securing first place, Blacktown City qualified and defeated Canberra FC and Moreton Bay United in the Quarter and Semi Finals before disposing of Bayswater City in the final 3-1. Joey Gibbs starred in the final with a double and won the John Kosmina Medal for best player in the NPL Grand Final.
Gibbs spoke of his pleasure through winning the relatively new system in the NPL and expressed his desire to see this concept eventually connected with the A-League. "It was a great night for the club and was something after the disappointment of the grand final loss in NSWPL we really focused on and wanted to win. It's great to see the initiative of an NPL final series. Hopefully in the future it can be for promotion."
At Blacktown, Gibbs has relished the opportunity to link up with a number of new team-mates who have also had limited experience in the A-League with the likes of Mitch Mallia and Zachary Cairncross who both played for Sydney FC, and Travis Major and Matthew Lewis who spent time at the Central Coast Mariners. Among the experience is a crop of promising youngsters who also played a major part in Blacktown's success in 2015.
Gibbs became the NSW Premier League's second highest goal-scorer last season on 16, five behind Blake Powell with 21 who returned to the A-League with Wellington Phoenix in the current A-League season.
Gibbs expressed relief that no members of the squad were picked off by any A-League clubs, "Our whole mentality is one that puts the squad before individuals and I believe just about every member of our starting 11 could fit into most A-League squads. It was quite surprising last year that no B city players were poached by A-League teams but that is a benefit to us this season as we feel we can build on the success we have already achieved."
Alongside Gibbs, team-mates Patrick Antelmi, Mitch Mallia and Danny Seung-Joo Choi were also contributing plenty of goals in 2015 and with almost the same squad for the 2016 season, Gibbs believes they possess the quality to challenge again.
"We haven't changed too much. We have only brought in Robbie Sperenza from Parramatta and Riku, a Japanese boy, however they are both solid additions to the squad," added Gibbs.
Last Sunday, Blacktown City FC kicked off their 2016 campaign with a 3-2 victory at home to Sydney United 58 FC courtesy of goals to Sasa Macura, Travis Major and a penalty from Gibbs himself. A vital goal to his name already, may well be another step towards a richly-deserved A-League return.