'Austin lifts the team without even thinking about it'
Published 09/07/2016 | 02:30
If you wanted to show a tourist everything that's unique about hurling, a highlight reel of Austin Gleeson's best moments in a Waterford jersey wouldn't be a bad place to start.
Precision, skill, versatility and an ability to get people up off their seats with a touch of class mark Gleeson out as one of the game's finest talents - despite only turning 21 last month.
Far too often players are restricted by tactics and systems but the mark of a great player is an ability to deliver in the clutch situation when their side needs them most, an attribute Déise selector Fintan O'Connor feels the Mount Sion man has in spades.
"He is a leader without trying to be a leader," O'Connor says. "He is a leader by actions. Leadership can be a tackle, a catch or a great score. Austin does that without even thinking about it, going back to natural ability or instinct.
"When he is tuned in for a match he does things that lifts the team without even thinking about doing it; hopefully that is something we will see for years to come. Some of the plays he makes naturally give the boys a spur on.
"Some of the scores he got against Clare and some of the catches, hooks, and blocks he made were crucial. The sideline was a crucial score, we had gone a long time without one."
After watching the win against the Banner on television, O'Connor could relate to Michael Duignan's comments that the best thing to do with a line ball is keep it in play and work a score before he bisected the posts with a beauty.
"It was typical Austin. We are often on the sideline going, 'Ah Jesus Austin, what are you doing there?' And then he will come up and it will go over the bar and you say, 'F*** it, I will say nothing'. He is that kind of player."
Much has been made of where Gleeson's best position is with comparisons made to club-mate and Waterford legend Ken McGrath but recently the WIT student has been playing far more offensively and to good effect.
But O'Connor admits they don't know where he is best served. "He is such a character, a free spirit the way he goes on, the way he is around the place. It is very hard to pin him down to where his best position is," he says.
"No matter where he is positioned he is very much set to follow a team ethic, but having said that an individual is an individual. You can't take out natural ability or natural instinct to do things. He will always have that in him.
"We wouldn't want to quash that either. When it comes to playing in a position you'll set that out, but he will go to the ball, like a young fella, with a freedom that young fellas have. It is great to see it at times.
"He will end up in positions that people say, 'They have him back in the backs', but sometimes we don't, he is just chasing back after the ball like any young fella would. Nobody really knows his best position.
"Once he is out there, once he is playing for the team, doing his best, we are delighted to have him. No matter where he is, Austin will play with a smile on his face; he just wants to play."
Close friend Colin Dunford has watched his rise through the ranks from close quarters and is often lost for words with his ability to make things happen, even on the training field.
"The man can do anything with a ball, but he is so easygoing about it. He trains really hard, and he does everything at 100 miles an hour. The scores in the games show his hard work is paying off," Dunford says.
"When he gets the ball you know he is going to do something special most of the time. It is lovely to have a fella like that on the team, that can pull something amazing out of the sky.
"He'd be just messing around in the puck-around before training. Some of the stuff he does is mad really, he'd be hitting sidelines before training and lads would be trying to hit them with him. We wouldn't even be getting them off the ground. Here is this fella driving them over the bar. His skill level is something else."
Gleeson's ability between the white lines is something Dunford feels will always have a special place in the game but ahead of tomorrow's Munster final, he's well aware that Tipperary are similarly well-equipped.
"You'll always need that in hurling. You'll always need people who have their own individual attributes. I know it is a team game, but you still need people that can come out to pull something out of the sky, like he can," he says.
"Tipp have a good few lads like that - Callanan, Bubbles, and Padraic Maher, who could get a long-range score. You need those kind of things to lift the team after a dull few minutes. It's huge for us when he does something."