'We all believe that Derek can lead us the whole way' - Gleeson
Published 17/11/2016 | 02:30
After mesmerising the hurling world with his vast array of skills and collecting Hurler of the Year aged 21, Austin Gleeson sits easily among the game's elite. But it all could have been so different.
A late-night text to Waterford boss Derek McGrath in the winter of 2014, indicating that the pressure on his shoulders in the Déise shirt was too much, briefly threatened to derail his burgeoning career.
It was pure impulse. A club U-21 game with Mount Sion, "one of the worst" he'd ever played, led to a rash decision which he instantly regretted. McGrath replied saying, 'I'll ring you in the morning'.
After winning a minor All-Ireland the previous year, he burst onto the senior scene with a spectacular goal against Cork in the Munster Championship and coming from a county crying out for success, Gleeson's angst was only natural.
There was a weight of expectation to deliver excellence, particularly from himself, but when the pair went for a drive together everything was smoothed over, the result of which was this year's heroics.
"It was just the pressure kind of after the first year, I wasn't really able for it. I sent a stupid text when I had a few drinks in me. It was literally five minutes later, he texted me back," Gleeson explains. "That was it, he rang me in the morning and we went for a drive. I think we were out in the gym with Waterford and we went out there and I was just talking to him on the way out and that.
"The second he started talking I knew that it was the wrong decision to make, that I was never going to leave the set-up so it was just one of those stupid decisions that I regret.
"It was just a lot of pressure was being put on, not from... from myself more than anything, I just felt in that moment that the demands, I just couldn't cope with them."
Quite the contrary, however, as the experience hardened Gleeson, who will return to WIT to complete a business degree, without stifling the spellbinding creativity which lit up this year's championship.
Whether McGrath would seek a fourth year at the helm was debated over the winter but Gleeson, a former student of his at De La Salle, is delighted he returned and feels he is the one to help negotiate a route to the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
"It would have taken its toll a good bit (if Derek had left). I would have hated to be the man stepping into his shoes and being the next manager because his man-management is probably his best attribute. He has everyone on that team playing for him," he says. "He is an unbelievable man and unbelievable manager. We are delighted that he is staying and we all believe that he is the man who can lead us the whole way.
"If there is any pressure it's coming from ourselves, that we need to do more so that we drive on and do it for ourselves. We have the full belief that we are going to do it and hopefully in the next few years we can do it.
"Maybe next year it's more important than ever to do it now. We don't want to be waiting around (another) couple of years, the years are going by so fast that it could be ten years' time and we're still saying 'now'. Look, we just want to have that medal in our pocket as soon as we can."