‘A lot of legends, a lot of people, have come before me but this is my time.’ -Usain Bolt
Never has the sentiment uttered above by the world’s fastest man been more applicable to two young men in the arena of Gaelic Games. Waterford’s Austin Gleeson and Alan Cadogan burst onto the GAA scene this weekend with two exceptional performances.
May 25th,2014 will be emblazoned in the consciousness of around 16,000 spectators for not only being a renewal of the ‘swashbuckling’ endeavours of the Cork-Waterford rivalry, but for the birth of two hurling figures that not only define the youthful exuberance and sense of transition in their respective counties’ fortunes, but also appear to shoulder the expectation of future hopes and glories.
A grey sky over Semple Stadium was exploded by the vibrancy of colour of the ‘white-and-blue’ of Na Déise to the ‘red-and-white’ of Cork, the dazzling spectacle of Munster Championship hurling would appear to exist still to the players on the much vaunted turf, if not necessarily represented in spectator numbers.
Thurles, the birthplace of the GAA, the spiritual home of hurling, can also boast to delivering many of the greats of the game from the infancy of minor to the throngs of senior showpieces, the platform in which many have announced themselves on the national stage.
Many of those that defined the Cork-Waterford rivalry such as Ken McGrath, John Mullane, Joe Deane and Diarmuid O’Sullivan have departed and are now distant memories, distilled by time. Austin Gleeson and Alan Cadogan will hope to add their names to the narratives of their counties’ journeys.
Two young men, new boys on the block, entering the playground of embittered scholars of hurling. Though their theory had been studied, the practicalities of Championship hurling is a university filled with fire and brimstone, harsh realities laid bare to all.However, neither player would shirk the challenge. The ignorance of youth would be folly to many, yet in it is the purity of naivety, to dare.
Cadogan shimmied, shuffled and sped away from his marker Barry Coughlan (another Championship debutant for Waterford, four in total) and would cap what was a perfect display in the mastery of the corner-forward position of agility and skill of both mind and body.
The introduction of Shane Fives would be Waterford’s effort to scupper Cadogan, but also affirmation of an introduction to the inter-county scene of mesmeric proportions that would lead a four-point dividend.
Similarly, Gleeson would provide much confidence and example for his own county. The Mount Sion man would harry, harass, and demonstrate all the skills of the game and exemplify endeavour. Two blocks in succession, several efforts of pointing a side-line cut and his ability in the air would see him field the sliothar, turn and place a point over the bar to see Waterford enter half-time with a 0-13 to 0-7 point lead.
Yet, the moment of the match, the moment that will define the young career of Gleeson, an interception of a Cork sideline cut, the power and strength to shoulder his opponent, to take on two, then three of Cork’s defenders, a side-step that Fred Astaire would have admired, the pace to enter the parallelogram, and more importantly the composure to place the ball across that of the sprawling Anthony Nash. The two-time All-Star no less, left powerless to the fearlessness.
Waterford now in a nine-point lead, appeared to be on for an upset, however Cork would come to dominate the exchange from the 44th minute until the end of the match.
Though the youth on both teams would tire, the experience of war-weary figures such as Seamus Prendergast and Shane O’Neill would appear to stir put teams to an inevitable draw. The battle is to be resumed in two weeks time after a 1-21 apiece display that whets the appetite for further dazzling demonstrations, and the showcasing of youthful stars.
Gleeson and Cadogan announced themselves to Championship hurling. Displaying their abilities and aptitude for the game, new cogs in the traditions of their counties, new figures to define their sport. They allowed us to glimpse into the potential for future successes. But that is for another day.
For the moment they have marked their first introduction to the Championship, they must enjoy their moment, for their time is now.
Cian Manning, Pundit Arena.