'I'm going to train and really sew into it' - Austin Gleeson cancels Christmas for Deise assault in silver
Waterford star set for quiet Christmas as he eyes elusive championship win
It seemed like Austin Gleeson had the world at his feet when crowned Hurler of the Year in 2016 but his inter-county career hasn't exactly played out as he expected.
Jaws were regularly dropped at the Waterford wizard's skill that summer but he has failed to come close to the outstanding form which saw him voted the game's finest, and he's eager to make up for lost time.
Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.
There's a maturity to the way he speaks, a realisation that his career could flash by him in the blink of an eye if he isn't careful and that greater focus is needed if he is fulfil the limitless potential he possesses.
Gleeson has no problem admitting that his eye has been taken off the ball in years gone by but he is intent on making up for lost time in 2020 under new boss Liam Cahill.
"I'm literally going to empty myself for the whole winter. The last couple of winters, I've had small little niggles that have made me miss a training session or two," Gleeson says.
"I probably could have pushed through and probably got through the training session to get the fitness up, but this year I'm just saying I'm getting myself as fit as I possibly can and getting myself ready for the championship.
"I've always enjoyed my Christmases, if you want to put it that way, like every player does want to do, because it's the only time of year you have to sit back and relax with friends and family and that kind of thing.
"This year I made a conscious decision that I'm not going to do it. I'm going to train and really sew into it. Everyone is exactly the same. Everyone is going to do the exact same.
"It's going to be a 10n-month process instead of saying, 'Oh, we'll be grand if we start really training hard in January'. Everyone is just going to really go it at now from November."
If ever a wake-up call was needed, the axing of experienced servants in Noel Connors and Maurice Shanahan from the Waterford fold lit a fire under Gleeson to get his act together.
"It's after making us train harder, a lot harder. The fear is there that he's laying down his own marker. It's just something that maybe we needed, needed big time, to make us just be hungry again I suppose.
"That was a big thing about making that kind of self-conscious decision to just train hard throughout the winter instead of maybe slacking back and just going back in January. You could just see that the lads mean business and you want to be part of that business instead of a couple of yards behind the rest of the lads."
With experience comes a knowledge that time is of the essence and Gleeson has no intention of putting anything on the long finger as he bids to maximise his talents.
"You just have to make every year as if it's your last instead of saying, 'Oh, I'm a young fella, I'll be grand next year'," the 24-year-old says.
"I was very young getting it (Hurler of the Year), very naive. Even that winter a number of different award ceremonies, I probably would have went to the opening of an envelope just to experience it all.
"But if I could look back, I would have cut a lot of them. I was missing a couple of training sessions because I was going to these kind of award nights and it just kept going from there and I couldn't get back to where I wanted to be.
"Where I was in 2016 and I suppose I still haven't even came close to getting to that point again. So just driving on this year and going to train as hard as I ever have and so is everyone.
"Even two weeks in, we can see that lads are waiting and mad for a go at it this year and see where it takes us this year."
Given Waterford's inability to win a championship game since their 2017 All-Ireland semi-final defeat of Cork and their disastrous 2019 under Páraic Fanning, the criticism has come thick and fast for the Mount Sion ace but he has grown used to it.
"The more you get, the less it kind of affects you, if you're constantly getting it, you eventually just say there's no point in even looking at it I suppose. When it started to come, you're like, 'I'd love to prove that fella wrong, I'd love to prove this fella wrong'.
"It is difficult but you are just constantly getting it, you kind of just leave it slide because it is a constant and you can't do anything about it until you get that first win.
"Towards the end of the championship no matter where you went it was, 'What's going on with ye?' 'Is it the manager, is it players, is it fitness-wise, is it everything?' but no one had an answer and fellas still don't have an answer. No one knew what it was but we just couldn't get that win."
Gleeson, a final year business student in Waterford IT, knows that victory is the only way to silence the doubters and he's willing to play whatever role Cahill sees fit in order to achieve that.
"I'd love to sit in one position and just learn how to play that position. It's something I haven't been able to do in recent years.
"If it takes me sitting on the sideline to win games, I don't really mind where I'm playing.
"That's being honest with you. If the lads feel that they need me in one position to win a certain game, or if they don't need to play me in a certain game to win a game, I'll have no problem with that.
"I'm just sick of losing. I just want to win games, whether I'm one to 30, as long as we win a game I'll be happy with where I'm playing."
Who is your sportstar of the year?
Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.
Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.