Austin Gleeson’s name is constantly in the media but his name is there for a reason. He is hurling’s new superstar.
It is hard to believe that the Mount Sion man is only 21 years of age. Remarkably, this is his third championship campaign for the Déise after making his championship debut against Cork in the 2014 drawn Munster quarter-final.
After starring from centre-back on Waterford’s All-Ireland minor winning side in 2013, Gleeson made his senior championship debut from left-half forward just a year later. He announced himself on the senior stage with a bang, scoring a sensational goal.
Gleeson showed remarkable courage, confidence and skill to weave his way through the Cork defence and finish the sliotar to the roof of Anthony Nash’s net. Gleeson added two points including a sideline that day and since then, Gleeson hasn’t looked back.
2014 saw the Déise being comprehensively beaten by Cork in the Munster semi-final replay before losing to Wexford in the qualifiers. Despite two disappointing performances from Derek McGrath’s side, Gleeson managed to score three points on both occasions. The man, who was labelled as a star of the future was quickly becoming Waterford’s star of the present.
2015 saw Gleeson’s remarkable rise continue as Waterford’s fortunes took a turn for the better. The Mount Sion man shone as the Déise reached the All-Ireland semi-final.
This year, he has further flourished. His six and five point tallies against Clare and Kilkenny respectively have been two of the finest individual displays seen this year. In fact, in eleven championship appearances, Gleeson has managed an impressive 1-32.
Many of Gleeson’s scores over the past few seasons have come from sideline balls. The 21 year-old is one of the few players in the game to possess such a great skill. Although Gleeson and Waterford disappointed in this year’s Munster final, his two sideline cuts were simply sublime.
The Waterford man’s striking is arguably unrivalled in terms of distance. When Gleeson gets the chance to open the shoulders, he is capable of scoring from nearly anywhere.
The man more commonly know as ‘Aussie’ in Waterford is the most exciting and entertaining hurler to watch. He has this tag for many reasons but confidence, fearlessness and a certain sense of naivety play a major role in Gleeson being the most exciting hurler in the land.
The likes of Richie Hogan, Seamus Callanan, TJ Reid, Joe Canning and Tony Kelly all possess the same hurling ability as Gleeson. However, there is an added flair and sense of enthusiasm that comes with the Déise superstar.
Gleeson has the confidence to take a pot shot from anywhere on the field. He also is willing to use his sheer athleticism and pace to take on any man at any potential opening.
Last year’s Young Hurler Of The Year nominee is also renowned for his aggression and tackling. Gleeson lives for the big hits. He is certainly fearless and his diving block on Conor Fogarty last Sunday epitomised his courage and bravery.
Every hurler can be classified as brave but Gleeson is different. The way he throws his weight around in a care-free manner is something we should all admire.
Gleeson’s naivety was summed up in a passage of play against Kilkenny on Sunday. He tried to solo through a couple of players while wriggling his hurley in and out of players. He eventually lost the ball but the fact that he even attempted it shows that the opposition are there to be beaten and not to be respected in Gleeson’s eyes.
As a hurler, Gleeson has it all. Every skill in the book, you name it, Gleeson has it. His performance in the Munster u21 final just a few weeks ago was one of the best individual performances ever seen. He utterly dominated the game from centre-back.
Gleeson, who first starred with De La Salle Colleges under Derek McGrath, is swiftly becoming a massive symbol for hurling and is in fact hurling’s major icon. An icon hurling needed so badly.
Every child across the county now wants to be Austin Gleeson. They want to strike the ball as far as he does, they want to take a sideline cut like Austin does, they want to be as fearless and as confident as him.
The key to Gleeson’s swift rise to the top has been his confidence and freedom of expression on the pitch. He is never afraid of trying something outrageous on the pitch
The 2015 National League winner does things in competitive matches that children try down on the field and would never dare to try in match. His expression is vital to the promotion of hurling and is inspiring younger generations across the land.
Gleeson possesses every skill in the hurling armour and his mentality is just as impressive. Yes, he can be erratic at times but that is what makes him the player he is. His care-free nature and confidence on the pitch makes him stand out from the crowd.
Standing out from the crowd has seen Gleeson become a badly-needed icon in hurling circles. One gets the feeling that the Mount Sion man will be around for years to come yet.
The trick is that he doesn’t lose the mentality he possesses. Every young hurler across the land wants to be like him. Long may it continue.
Seán Ó Murchú, Pundit Arena