Star opens up on losing ‘hero’ brother
Melbourne defender Michael Hibberd has opened up on losing his elder brother Geoff, who disappeared while fishing with a friend off Victoria's coast in April.
The search for the 33-year-old and friend Jason De Silva, 20, was scaled back after their boat was found washed up on Pyramid Rock.
Kayo is your ticket to the 2020 Toyota AFL Premiership Season. Watch every match of every round Live & On-Demand. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >
Hibberd paid tribute to his older brother and "hero" in an Instagram post in April and has now spoken at length with The Age about how he has dealt with the tragic experience so far.
Hibberd spoke about the phone call he received from sister Carly at 11pm on a Sunday night informing him Geoff and De Silva had gone missing after leaving Flinders Pier before 6am on a fishing trip.
"She [Carly] said the car's still there, but no boat. No one's heard from them. Their phones are off. I was like, straight away I was, 'Shit, this is no good'," he told The Age.
"Everyone's like, 'Yeah no, he's probably...' With my brother, he has a way of getting out of any situation. He's a character. Anyway, everyone's like, 'It's Geoff, he'll come back' kind of thing.
"I've been out in those waters before fishing, especially when it's rough and you know, be out there in a tinny that was only two metres big, so yeah I was pretty real about it straight away, barely got a wink of sleep and then went straight down to the pier the next day."
View this post on Instagram
My Brother, My big brother. To say I’m heartbroken and devastated is the worlds biggest understatement! I will never forget how you have always been there and would do anything for not just me but honestly anyone. You’re one of the most unique, kind and caring people I’ve ever met and I’m so lucky I had the gift of you as a Big Brother through my whole life. You were my first point of call growing up when I needed someone, you would drop anything you were doing at anytime, just to help me. I idolised you! You were my hero. You still are!! I know you have always been my number 1 fan and the bond we had as brothers was like nothing else. It was special and words can’t describe it. I will never forget the best in you and the person you were! You were an incredible and loyal friend and the most amazing father to Indie. She was your world and she adored you! We all did! Please know brother I will always be there and take care of Indie! My pledge to you! You love so big and have had a positive impact on so many people! I will miss so much about you. The way you could make a group laugh and brighten up any room you stepped into. I know you’ll always be with me, looking down on all of us! The memories I have of you won’t be distant ones. I will think of you and those memories everyday ! We will laugh and cry during this time and do this together! The fact that so many people are feeling this pain just shows how incredible and special you were mate!! RIP mate. I already miss you so much! I love you more than you’ll ever know brother! To anyone that has read this. Hug your loved ones. Tell them you love them. Family is everything
Hibberd then elaborated on the phone call that all-but-confirmed his worst fear.
"The police rang me and they found the boat at Pyramid Rocks (Phillip Island), smashed up against the rocks with no sign of them," he said.
"I think that was, that was - if it wasn't already real then, for me, which it kind of was, it was for my family you know - and then the next few days were rough on everyone."
Hibberd said he took over dealing with police in the aftermath in an effort to lighten the emotional load on his parents, before later realising he hadn't taken care of himself in the process
He now says he's "going really well now, everyone's going as well as you can be, I guess."
DEALING WITH THE AFTERMATH
Hibberd spoke about how he deals with the bizarre situation of Geoff not yet being declared deceased, given he and De Silva are yet to be found.
"I was pretty realistic about the whole thing early and now I think everyone's dealt with that," Hibberd told The Age.
"They understand, they understand he's not out there swimming still. Like it's, sad as it is, it's not the case."
The COVID-19 crisis Victoria is dealing with has made it even harder to pay tribute to Geoff, as a large gathering for a funeral is not permitted under current state laws.
"That's been something that's been pretty tough. We're still, there's a part of us that wants to just wait until COVID settles down, we can have a proper celebration," he said.
"And, you know, you kind of want that, the coroner to go, 'Yeah, he's been pronounced dead'. We don't know how long that will be. We'll deal with that when they do. They may not say that for a long time. It could be another year or two years, who knows?
"But if COVID stuff settles down and we can actually have a proper gathering of over 100 people, we'll just do it off our own bat."
Hibberd remembered the role Geoff played in his road to an AFL career, with the pair living together before he was picked up in the 2010-11 pre-season draft.
Geoff would keep Hibberd's spirits up when the hope of an AFL career seemed distant, and was a "real character" and "a real loyal friend".
"Definitely a lad, yeah. He'd make anyone laugh ... He'd just try and make people laugh and half the time he'd get in trouble doing it but if you made someone laugh, he didn't care," he told The Age.
"I'm at peace with what's happened. You know, when someone passes you always have a little bit of regret - the last few times we were in contact we were probably blueing a little bit at the time when he passed. But in terms of the grief and him gone, we understand he's gone and there's full closure there for everyone.
"Me and him, you know, brothers, brothers get feisty towards each other. But with anyone else he had a heart of gold ... he was very likeable, very loyal."
RETURNING TO FOOTY
The 30-year-old opened up on the road back to AFL after the tragedy, with the defender missing Round 2 before returning to the side and playing every game since.
"I feel like, especially early, it was like a motivation for me. Something Geoff and I would always do growing up was always footy ... I definitely wouldn't be where I am without him, you know, he toughened me up."
Hibberd praised the Melbourne Football Club for the "unreal" support they have provided him with throughout an extraordinarily challenging year.
"When things are tough, you always go back to your mates and your teammates. The support was there from Goody (coach Simon Goodwin) from the start."
With Hibberd hubbing in Queensland in order to help his side and the competition, he said there was an added layer of difficulty not being with his family given what has transpired.
"It is difficult being away from family, especially when they're doing it tough still but I just do whatever I can. These are the cards we've been dealt and I've been dealt, you know, everyone's up in this situation where they can't see anyone."
Originally published as Star opens up on losing 'hero' brother