Sunday 18 March 2018

Gleeson pure box office in 'Hollywood' unveiling

McGrath not surprised by wonder goal as Deise's new kids on block steal show

Austin Gleeson scores the 10th Waterford piont from a sideline cut in Thurles.
Austin Gleeson scores the 10th Waterford piont from a sideline cut in Thurles.
Waterford selector Dan Shanahan
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Waterford likes its hurling heroes cut from a grainy cloth. They'd choose Marlon Brando over Cary Grant any day, flint and moxy over silk in the wrists. They look for cut and dander in the boys they send to a battlefront. So what you get with Waterford then is a kind of 70-minute MRI. Nothing coyly hidden, nothing going unseen.

At 19, Austin Gleeson honours that tradition. We may talk all summer about the goal he scored in Thurles yesterday, but there was so much more to the kid than that. The word precocity is inappropriate because it implies a kind of giddiness born of innocence. And this boy is no child.

He'd caught the eye in so many ways before that startling 44th-minute bolt towards the Killinan end that lacked nothing but a cape and gloves.

On 20 minutes, he'd snared Pa Cronin twice in an eye-blink under the old stand with two blocks that sent great, guttural roars splashing down upon him. On 30 minutes, he'd snicked the most sublime, curving line cut straight between the Cork posts. On 38 minutes, he nailed the last score of the first half, then went hunting immediately for a Cork shoulder to meet.

This was less a championship debut then than a Hollywood unveiling.


There is an energy coming off Gleeson that could spark anything, energy from which Waterford will hope to mine new glory days. But there is edge too. He was already on a booking when he went slaloming late into Anthony Nash in the 72nd minute, offering Patrick Horgan a simple free from wherever the goalkeeper's delivery would land.

That moment rescued Cork. For they were almost certainly one, last Waterford clearance from defeat.

No matter, the goal is worth reprising. Like all works of art, it flew to a place mere language is ill-equipped to follow, but the mechanics were uncomplicated. Aidan Walsh fluffed a line cut close to his own '45' and, well, Gleeson saw opportunity where the rest of us just saw traffic.

As he soloed towards a copse of maybe six crimson shirts, you were inclined to fear for his innocence. Now, Jimmy Barry-Murphy will be justified in questioning why the road-block failed, but the sight of Gleeson torqueing through an invisible gap was extraordinary. And what followed was truly glorious.

The kid... a collective intake of breath... the All Star goalkeeper. Reflex option was, surely, to go for power. Well young Austin Gleeson declined it, just rolling his wrists and sending the sliotar in a divine, gentle arc past Nash into the far corner.

Down on the line, Derek McGrath grinned. Nothing he hadn't already seen.

"It was great, but I've seen him do it at schools level," the Waterford manager would tell us later. "In fairness, he dominated the minor championship from centre-back and ultimately he'll go down the Ken McGrath route of ending up centre-back or wing-back, because he's just a fine hurler. And what he is too is a very level-headed young fella with a lovely family behind him.

"Austin? We do be trying to get under him at times, he's so relaxed. He's very languid in terms of his style, and we're delighted for him."

Anyway summer arrived in Thurles yesterday, under a sky of dirty tea-towels and in a wind thieved from early February.

Waterford versus Cork was once the the colour scheme for every hurling romanticist's day-dream. Through the early noughties, they brought stuff out of one another that bore endless lyric and tumult. Their hurling had an ungovernable quality, we just strapped ourselves in and let the G-forces take us.

This wasn't quite at that intensity. It couldn't be, given Cork's curious inertia. For almost 50 minutes, they hurled as if in leg-chains, coming to life only when Bill Cooper spooned a ball over the Waterford goal-line after Stephen O'Keeffe had saved spectacularly from a long-range Patrick Horgan pile-driver.

And they won the next 10-minute stretch by 0-7 to 0-2, at which point it looked suspiciously as if they might even escape the premises with a larcenous win.

Had Cork been complacent? They were 1/3 with the bookies to begin with and were generally being spoken of as presumed opponents for All-Ireland champions Clare's Munster opener on June 15.

"People are going to say we were complacent, but it's not that all," said Nash after. "We just didn't get going for some reason unfortunately. There's no complacency ever with Cork. Jesus Christ, sure what have we won? It's not like we have seven All-Ireland medals in each of our pockets.

"We have no All-Ireland, or even Munster medals. We're never complacent going into games. We see

ourselves as underdogs every time. It'll be the same the next day. We got a good lesson today. We were out-hurled and out-worked for the majority of it and just pulled ourselves out of it. That's the honest truth."

The jib of the Waterford kids was what caught the eye. Not just Gleeson. Tadhg Burke had a storming debut at wing-back and Colin Dunford showed enough maverick flashes of class in attack to suggest he'll endure into high summer.

That said, the ambush of regret cannot have been far from Waterford minds last night, given they led by nine points at one juncture. To some degree, they allowed it slip from their control, watching it become a frenzied prize-fight instead of a clinical act of closure.

Maybe that becomes the natural instinct of youth. You swing your windmills, we'll swing ours. Whoever is left standing, wins.

For so long though, their hurling had been simple, unadorned business. Just a simple, unfussed processing of possession, McGrath's calm influence written all over it.

"You always feel Cork will come," he admitted after. "Maybe that's something we need to look at in terms of our mindset. You always feel that they are going to get their period and the inward eye now is telling me that that goal should have been cleared."

It probably should too but, pointedly, Waterford still led as the game slipped deep into overtime, albeit Shane Fives had fouled the impressive Alan Cadogan in the build-up to Seamus Prendergast's lead score.

For Barry-Murphy, survival – thus – became the solitary grace of a difficult day.

"We didn't get to grips with the game," reflected the Cork manager. "And when we went nine points down, it certainly didn't look good at all. It was very dubious whether we'd be able to come back from that. The only positive was the character we showed to do it."

One slim thread of light to follow towards the replay.

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