Waterford are bidding for a first All-Ireland hurling title since 1959. They take on 2018 All-Ireland winners Limerick who are looking to make it two titles in the last three years.
Waterford and Limerick clashed in the Munster final last month with Limerick running out four-point winners. If Waterford are to stand a chance of reversing that form then Austin Gleeson will likely play a pivotal role. You get the feeling that Gleeson’s performance will go a long way to deciding the destination of Liam MacCarthy for 2020.
2016 Hurler of the Year
When we talk about Austin Gleeson, it’s hard to believe that the 2016 Young Hurler and Hurler of the Year is only 25. A lot was expected of Gleeson after those achievements but he found it tough to follow that year up. The Mount Sion man has spoken publicly about the winter that followed. He admits that he allowed the previous year’s accolades slow down his progress.
“It was tough, I’m not going to lie but a lot of it was my own fault, especially that winter,” he said.
“I would have went to any event, I was young, I was 21, I just wanted to see what it was like. I never reached the fitness, I never reached that pedestal that I had set myself.
“Management and training and all that, they could have done what they wanted, it was my own self-belief thinking ‘ah ya, I’ll be grand come April, I’ll get back there anyway’ but I just never did because I didn’t put in the work that I did in winter 2015.”
It’s been a long road back to that form, with flashes of brilliance masking what were, at times, inconsistent performances. In those flashes of brilliance, there have been unforgettable moments. Who can forget his goal in the 2017 All-Ireland semi-final against Cork? Time seemed to stand still.
That goal propelled Waterford to a first All-Ireland final since 2008. Unfortunately, Gleeson was kept quiet during the final and Galway went on to win their first All-Ireland hurling title since 1988.
Speaking about Gleeson’s performances, John Mullane made the comparison to snooker’s Ronnie O’Sullivan. This is not just due to his matchless skill but because there seems to be no limit of what he can accomplish.
The Waterford legend spoke to Paddy Power and said, “this lad reminds me of Ronnie O’Sullivan in the snooker, he’s capable of anything. If he flicks the switch during the final at all, Waterford have a super chance of lifting Liam MacCarthy – he’s that good.”
It’s hard not to agree with Mullane’s analogy but Gleeson has become known as a streaky player post his 2016 breakthrough.
However, this year the Déise man has been a lot more consistent in his performances, scoring 0.12 from play in Waterford’s four Championship games. His recent showing against Kilkenny, scoring four points, was singled out for praise by manager Liam Cahill in his post match interview. There’s more to Gleeson’s game outside of scores and the Tipperary man made reference to this, commending his work rate.
Cahill said: “Credit to Austin Gleeson, he was out on his legs there and he absolutely gave everything he had. If ever a performance epitomised Austin Gleeson, on my watch, I think today was that.
“In fairness to the man, he’s been lauded and applauded, for all the spectacular things he does. I think today and over my reign so far, he’s brought a different aspect to his game from work rate and honesty and hooking and blocking. I’m delighted for him in particular.”
The 2013 All-Ireland minor winner’s second half performance against Kilkenny could be a potential landmark moment. We have been patiently waiting for a career resurrection and becoming more of a team player this year has allowed him to start hurling without fear.
There’s no doubt that Gleeson can also play at centre-back. However, with Tadhg de Búrca’s sublime performances there this year, this has allowed Gleeson play with a lot more freedom. He has been deployed in the forward line in recent games.
As mentioned above, there is a question mark over Gleeson on the big day. His no-show against Galway in the same fixture in 2017 is ultimately disappointing. But Gleeson was only 22 at the time and has three more years under his belt.
There’s been a low key build-up to this year’s final with it being the middle of December and the game taking place behind closed doors. There is a quiet expectation of a big performance from the Mount Sion man.
Austin Gleeson with a trademark sideline cut! pic.twitter.com/qMLYJZEpfw
— The GAA (@officialgaa) March 31, 2019
“What ever happened to Austin Gleeson?”
Jackie Tyrrell asked in his Irish Times column last month, “What ever happened to Austin Gleeson?”
It could yet be that rumour of Gleeson’s demise has been greatly exaggerated.
You get the feeling that Gleeson’s performance will go a long way to deciding the destination of Liam MacCarthy for 2020.
The All-Ireland hurling final between Limerick and Waterford is on Sunday in Croke Park, with throw-in at 3.30pm. It is preceded by the Joe McDonagh final between Antrim and Kerry at 1pm. Both games are live on RTÉ.