BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
CRAIG SIBBALD insists crossing swords with Leicester superstar Riyad Mahrez has only served to make him more hungry to reach the top.
Sibbald, 22, spent pre-season on trial with English League Two outfit Luton Town as he weighed up his options south of the border, joining the Hatters on tour in Slovenia before featuring in a friendly against the Foxes.
Craig Shakespeare’s men ran out 1-0 winners, with Mahrez – who was directly up against the Bairns favourite – netting the only goal of the contest.
Sibbald failed to win a deal after Luton baulked at the £250,000 compensation fee they would have been due to pay, however he has been inspired by an eye-opening run-in with the English Premier League’s player of the year in 2015/16.
Speaking for the first time since penning a one-year extension with Falkirk, he said: “Playing against world class players, guys who have won the Premier League, was a brilliant chance to see what that standard is and what you are attempting to get towards. It’s given me a taste, and hopefully I get more in the future.
“You realise how quickly these guys can get out of tight spots and the speed they turn defence into attack.
“Their full first-team was out – barring [Jamie] Vardy – and I was out on the left-flank, so I was directly up against Mahrez and Danny Simpson, so that was a great experience.
“I would say Mahrez is skinnier than me! However, he has that ability just to burst away like a deer. He might be slight, but he has worked on speed, endurance and being powerful for his size. You don’t have to be huge and be pushing people off the ball.
“I’ll try to take a lot from the experience; how sharp they were, the speed of thought and the pace of the game. That’s the level we all want to get to and I’ll never stop working hard to get there.”
Sibbald is adamant he has not been left downhearted by Luton’s decision not to pursue their interest, contending that the switch never felt right for him.
Instead, he is determined to take care of ‘unfinished business’ at the Falkirk Stadium.
He continued: “If I’m honest, I wasn’t to happy about the Luton thing – a wee bit because of the location, a bit because of the level. To leave a club I love as much as Falkirk, it needs to be perfect, and it just didn’t feel right in my heart.
“There’s some unfinished business here. We came short again last year, but we feel like we are one of the strongest teams this year and hopefully we can hit the nail on the head and win the league outright – because the playoffs haven’t been good to us.”
While it seems churlish to suggest any Falkirk fans would grudge Sibbald the chance to move on, having dedicated 15 years and more than 249 appearances to the club, he has vowed to win over any supporters irked by his desire to pursue other potential opportunities during the close season.
Sibbald added: “I think there might a be a few who think I wasn’t loyal, but I was just looking to make sure I made the right decision for my future and my career.
“Hopefully I quickly prove that I still want to be here and am determined to get the club promoted.”