'Don't get carried away - give us a chance to develop'
The Nire's dual star Conor Gleeson urges Déise hurling fans to be patient with stellar young team
Published 26/11/2016 | 02:30
Conor Gleeson - Waterford senior hurler, footballer with The Nire. Pretty good at both, too.
Carbery Rangers will attest to Gleeson's prowess with big ball in hand, after watching him notch five points from play in the AIB Munster club semi-final.
And from a hurling viewpoint, 2016 was very much a breakthrough year for Gleeson. Rated by John Mullane as the county's best man-marker, 20-year-old Gleeson starred on the team that romped to Munster and All-Ireland U-21 glory.
He also made his senior championship debut, coming on as a sub late on in the Munster final collapse against Tipperary.
Waterford recovered to beat Wexford in the All-Ireland series, with Gleeson called in early when Darragh Fives went off injured. He excelled and remained in the team for the classic semi-final clashes with Kilkenny.
He may be young but Gleeson, a third year Arts student at UCC, speaks with a maturity far beyond his years.
He knows how expectant and hungry Waterford hurling fans are for All-Ireland senior success. After all, the county hasn't tasted Liam MacCarthy Cup success since 1959.
But Gleeson notes how Limerick won three All-Ireland U-21 titles in a row from 2000-02 and failed to make a senior breakthrough. A rising tide of hope has engulfed a number of Waterford teams over the last 20 years and Gleeson has appealed for patience as a young crop continue on their upward curve.
From the 2016 U-21 squad, there are some new additions to the senior set-up for next year.
Darragh Lyons, an excellent defender, and Conor Prunty, a fine dual player in his own right, are both in. Goalkeeper Billy Nolan has been called up too, a player who was unfortunately denied the right to represent the U-21s this year under new GAA directives relating to age, despite playing on the team in 2015.
The key to potential success, in Gleeson's eyes, is quite simple.
"Stay level-headed," he says. "In Waterford, we can get a bit carried away. The team that won the U-21 this year won a minor All-Ireland (2013).
"We're expected to win a senior now in the next two or three years but it doesn't necessarily work like that. Look at Limerick there in the early 2000s, three in a row. They were expecting big things but they didn't win a senior All-Ireland.
"People have to be patient - stay with us and Derek McGrath for a few years.
"Give us a chance to develop, and we'll get our chance."
But Waterford fans are right to dream. After all, the U-21 team that Gleeson starred in was one of the finest ever to grace the grade.
Gleeson's personal highlight was beating Tipperary in the Munster final at a heaving Walsh Park - the first time a Waterford team had ever won a provincial title on home soil.
"Winning Munster and on our home patch in Waterford, that was our toughest game," he says. "I think Tipp were better than Galway - they gave us a good test in the second half. There was a big crowd in Walsh Park, very memorable."
Gleeson also represented the Waterford footballers at minor and U-21 level. Playing both codes at senior inter-county level is not feasible, however.
"Trying to do the two of them just wouldn't work," he says. "Especially with Waterford, you need to devote to one if you're serious about it.
"Like Podge Collins has done already in Clare, he's realised that you have to pick one and take it seriously."
But Gleeson has a real love for football, one he developed during his time at Clonmel High School, where he played alongside current Tipp senior panellists Jason Lonergan, Kevin Fahey and Bill Maher.
In college, Gleeson has also lived with another Tipp player, Ross Mulcahy, and when Clonmel Commercials won the Munster club title this time last year, he saw how much it meant to Fahey and Lonergan.
Commercials broke the mould by becoming the first Tipperary football club to conquer the province. If The Nire upset the odds against Dr Crokes tomorrow, they'll do likewise for Waterford.
The Nire believe that an opportunity slipped through their grasp against Austin Stacks two years ago, but Gleeson reckons that experience will stand them in good stead.
And he agrees with experienced clubmate Liam Lawlor, who feels that it was difficult to come down from the high of an epic extra-time semi-final victory over Cratloe.
Gleeson says: "He's right. The Cratloe game, we were not really expected to win. Getting that win, we were on a high, a buzz around the village and maybe people were expecting a bit too much of us to beat Stacks.
"This time, it's a lesser build-up. People are kind of realising how hard it is to win, even how hard it is to get to a Munster club final.
"We're looking forward to it. We feel if we can match them man to man for the first 20-25 minutes, don't let them get a good start and stay with them until half-time, we'll have a great chance."