Toby Sibbick reveals thoughts on his own Hearts song and parents' critique from London
It is a far more confident Toby Sibbick standing in front of the Evening News now. Our previous conversation was in the bowls of Fiorentina’s Stadio Artemio Franchi last month. If the Hearts defender exuded a diffident aura then, he is notably more relaxed this time. It stems simply from performing consistently.
Sibbick had been out of the team and shorn of confidence for almost a month before that Europa Conference League outing in Italy. It became the first step in an important recovery process which is very much ongoing. Subsequent matches against Aberdeen, Celtic, RFS, Ross County, Istanbul Basaksehir, Motherwell and Rangers allowed him to build on the platform. A run of games in the starting line-up is crucial for any player looking to improve self-belief and the young Englishman certainly needed it.
He won’t and shouldn’t consider himself the finished article just because of a few decent displays, although support from Hearts fans is useful fuel for his own sense of conviction. Sibbick now has his own song, looks less tense on the field and less anxious off it. He was assured throughout the 90 minutes at Ibrox on Wednesday night, partnered by the dominant Kye Rowles after injury. Now it’s Livingston on Saturday for one final push before a much-needed rest during the World Cup break.
“I think I can be happy with my performances. I still think it’s in the process. I’m still young so there are obviously things I need to add to my game, but I’m pleased with how I’m playing at the moment,” he says. “I’ve got confidence and I just want to keep going. Wednesday was Kye’s first game back and he was outstanding. We just had to keep talking to each other throughout the game and try to shut Rangers out. The only goal came from one lapse in concentration from us. It was the only real chance Rangers created and they scored from it. That’s disappointing, although I thought we gave them a good game.”
A couple of choruses of the popular Sibbick chant echoed around Ibrox during play. “When you hear the fans sing your name, it does give you that confidence and belief within yourself. You take more and more confidence from it each time. When times are tough, I think every player needs that sort of confidence lift. You know within yourself that sometimes you’re not playing how you should be playing. It’s down to you whether you can rediscover that confidence. I had taken time out of the team and now I’m back in. I feel I’m doing well and I’ve got confidence so I just want to keep it going.”
No-one need tell the giant centre-back if a performance isn’t up to standard. He knows himself. On the odd occasion he may be slightly unsure, Mr and Mrs Sibbick aren’t slow to fire an opinion north from the family home in London. “Football is full of opinions so you can’t please everyone. As long as I know what I’m doing,” says the 23-year-old. “I have honest conversations with my mum and dad as well. They watch every game. They will tell me if I played well or if I didn’t. It’s really down to me. I know when I walk off the pitch if I’ve had a good game or not. I don’t think you can please everyone in this game.
“Parents look out for you and just want the best for you. Every matchday, they send me a text in the morning. Then I get another text after the game is finished. They say, ‘well done,’ or ‘could’ve done better’. That's the love parents have for their children. It’s a good thing to have with them.” Many young people would promptly turn the phone off at that point. Sibbick laughs. “No, I reply to them, to be fair. If my dad thinks any of the other boys have had a good game, he will mention them as well. It’s nice to read sometimes.”
The fact he is smiling after such a taxing period is testament to his strength of character and powers of recovery. He seems to be emerging on the other side after a career lull. “Yeah, definitely. I feel I’ve got more confidence on the pitch now. Even in training as well. I live with Gino [Josh Ginnelly] and he was there when things were tough. He helped me through it as well. I think I’m coming out the other side of that now.”
Time out of the team allowed Sibbick to reflect and rebuild that inner belief. It also means he is not as physically drained as some in the Riccarton dressing room after 24 games in three and a half months. A few will push themselves through the pain barrier one more time this weekend. “It’s been tough, it takes its toll on the body,” says the defender. “I think a few of our players now are really struggling with it. I think Alex Cochrane has played every single minute, apart from one game when he was suspended. I think he is struggling with it the most. We have one big push to come. We want to get the three points on Saturday, then we have a break for two weeks, then we are back into training and looking forward to the next game.”
He will return home during the World Cup break and try to take a holiday. Mum and Dad won’t be invited. “They can stay at home and look after the dog,” he jokes. “I will go to London. I haven’t booked anything yet but I will definitely get away, clear the head a bit and just relax.”