Sport Rugby

Sunday 18 November 2018

Gleeson's decision to hang up his boots a hammer-blow for Leinster

Keith Gleeson's poaching ability has been
overlooked by Eddie O'Sullivan
Keith Gleeson's poaching ability has been overlooked by Eddie O'Sullivan

David Kelly

In A season where one of the outstanding opensides in the northern hemisphere was persuaded out of retirement to front Wales' second Grand Slam title in four years, it was sadly ironic that another should yesterday prematurely retire after accepting his international exclusion was terminal.

At just 31, Keith Gleeson's loss to Leinster came as a hammer-blow during a week when the province cheerfully signed off on their coaching intentions for the next two seasons.

But Irish fans, still reeling from the World Cup, where the absence of a committed ground-hog such as that exemplified by the gritty Gleeson was profoundly grieved, will absorb the loss just as ardently.

Last capped in defeat to Scotland last August in a World Cup warm-up clash, Gleeson's renowned ability as a poacher par excellence, especially on hard tracks, was overlooked by Eddie O'Sullivan, who repeatedly underplayed the significance of the No 7 shirt.

Despite continuing his good form in Leinster's latest unsuccessful Heineken Cup tilt and drive towards Magners League success, O'Sullivan persisted in his baffling exclusion of Gleeson, to the point of hauling Simon Easterby from retirement and bringing in Johnny O'Connor ahead of him.

Maintaining his stoic politeness, Gleeson refused to engage in a public bartering in order to resume his international career, instead flinging himself remorselessly into his provincial duties, his latest Man of the Match display against Connacht a glowing testament to his innate professionalism and fidelity.

Yet, with the outstanding Martyn Williams lighting a touch paper to a Welsh revival, it was still a shock that Gleeson -- nine months younger -- should decide to quit.

"I agree," averred Leinster coach Michael Cheika yesterday, who revealed that Gleeson only informed him last week, ironically as the head coach was securing his own future and that of his own coaching staff.

Cheika alluded to the two serious injuries previously suffered by Gleeson -- a broken arm and a serious leg break, both sustained in 2004 -- as reasons for his shock decision, although he did also point to the quizzical dimming of the player's international hopes.

"It's a two-fold thing. He's had those injuries and there's a sense that he's been playing through them. It takes its toll and Keith looks at the long-term in respect of things like that.

"But I also know he was very passionate about playing for Ireland. I think he might feel time is over for him and now he has to assess all the possibilities as to why he's playing.

"But he's still in great form and he's lifted his game since Shane Jennings arrived. If he ever changes his mind, he just has to lift the telephone and I'd have him back in a minute."

"My decision to retire is largely inspired by my desire to explore new avenues and opportunities. I would like to thank my coaches, all the staff at Leinster, my friends and family for their support over the last seven years," said Gleeson, the player with 115 Leinster caps and 27 Ireland caps to his name."

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