Cork booked a place in their first Munster final since 2014 when they overcame Waterford on Sunday to upset the odds for the second time already this summer, having swept Tipperary aside at the provincial quarter-final stage.
While the Rebels performed impeccably, the dejected Déise camp will have rolled out of Semple Stadium on Sunday evening with a lot of questions looming large, and as county legend Ken McGrath put it in his analysis after the match, a lot of “soul searching” in order to find the answers.
One of those questions that Derek McGrath and his backroom team consisting of Dan Shanahan and co. must address is on the form of Hurler of The Year, Austin Gleeson.
Gleeson was taken off towards the end of the second half on Sunday, having not influenced the game in the manner or super style that we have become accustomed to seeing from him since bursting on to the senior inter-county hurling stage. Although he did produce one moment of sheer brilliance with a wonderfully crafted, skilful first half point, the Mount Sion clubman was anonymous overall.
The withdrawal of Gleeson from the field of play was met with ironic cheers from the Town End terrace in Thurles, inhabited by jubilant Cork fans, which could be described as unsavoury, but also show the stature of the player he is. The 2013 All Ireland minor winner’s form has not been as hot as we know it can be as of 2017 yet, having only played in patches of the league this spring and after Sunday’s disappointment. Waterford need him, their key man, to recover his mojo before their back door qualifier, or else it could be a short summer for them.
Writing in his Independent column in the aftermath of Sunday’s Munster semi-final, Tipperary legend Brendan Cummins voiced his belief that the Déise management must abort the idea of giving the 21-year-old a free role in hope that he will dominate matches with the shackles of a set position thrown off him. The former goalkeeper explains his standpoint, stating that Gleeson must be assigned a job to do at centre-forward to get the most out of him:
“We also need to talk about Austin Gleeson. He started at corner forward and was given a roaming role, to dip in and out of the game as he liked.
“But at 21 years of age, he’s still too young and inexperienced to play that type of role.
“He needs to be positioned at centre-forward, with the ball raining down on top of his head, and where he can hurl on instinct.”
Does Cummins have a point? He references two big games from 2016 to give his arguement an illustration:
“We saw in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final replay, when Austin was instructed to float around the middle of the pitch, how he spent a long chunks of the second half without touching the ball.
“He was looking to the sideline and wondering what to do next.
“That was in stark contrast to the drawn game against Kilkenny, when he was winning puck-outs and wreaking havoc on a defence that could not cope with him,” he expressed.
Besides the team’s playing style, which has become a massive talking point surrounding McGrath’s side’s shortcomings, the positioning of Aussie, as he is referred to in his native county, is essential in terms of Waterford getting their season on track before it ever even takes off. Déise folk, along with hurling fans in general will be hoping to see Gleeson back to his best, lighting up the championship again in the near future.