Saturday 18 November 2017

Young guns Gleeson and Carbery share honour after dazzling emergence

1956 Olympic gold medallist Ronnie Delany with joint winners of the Young Sportstar of the Year Joey Carbery (left) and Austin Gleeson. Photo: Frank McGrath
1956 Olympic gold medallist Ronnie Delany with joint winners of the Young Sportstar of the Year Joey Carbery (left) and Austin Gleeson. Photo: Frank McGrath

Michael Verney

The competition was of such quality that joint-winners walked away with the 2016 Irish Independent Padraig Power Young Sportstar of the Year award last night as the outstanding displays of Waterford hurler Austin Gleeson and Leinster and Ireland rugby starlet Joey Carbery were rewarded.

Ever since his jaw-dropping goal on his Championship debut against Cork two years ago, Gleeson has looked destined for greatness and he hasn't disappointed with a string of top-class displays during 2016.

Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny alongside Dublin boss Jim Gavin. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny alongside Dublin boss Jim Gavin. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

Rarely has the hurling world witnessed such a prodigious talent and the versatile Mount Sion maestro wowed spectators with his dazzling array of skills, earning him the GAA/GPA Hurler of the Year award at just 21, as well as the Young Hurler equivalent.

Even among the game's elite, his mesmerising ability with sliotar in hand, spectacular catches among throngs of bodies, remarkable strike-rate from sideline cuts and raw athleticism mark him out from the crowd

While consistently outstanding throughout the year, his two semi-final tours de force against reigning champions Kilkenny were a joy to behold, particularly during that never-to-be-forgotten Saturday evening replay in Thurles as Kilkenny clawed their way over the line despite his mercurial efforts.

That wasn't Gleeson finished for the season, however, as he bounced back to power the Déise to a comprehensive U-21 All-Ireland crown, and if Waterford are to make the breakthrough at senior level it's unfathomable to think that he won't be the driving force yet again.

Amazingly, Gleeson was goalkeeper for the Déise underage sides until U-17 level but a physical transformation has allowed him to cement his place as one of the best hurlers in the country.

'Aussie' epitomises everything that's good about the game and as a hurler, he has it all. Luckily for us there are many more years to come so sit back, or stand up, and enjoy.

As for Carbery, what a year it has been for the New Zealand-born out-half. Meteoric is probably the most apt description for his remarkable rise through the ranks which has seen him progress from an All-Ireland League title with Clontarf in May to the international stage with Ireland last month.

"Joe (Schmidt) called me up for a one-day camp in October and he said 'we'll get you in for up and coming years so you can get used to the environment and stuff,'" Carbery said recently, but he took to illustrious company like a duck to water and was selected on the touring squad to play the All Blacks in Chicago.

Most people celebrate their 21st birthday with a party but the Athy-based No 10 marked the occasion with a 59th-minute substitute appearance at Soldier Field to earn his first cap as Ireland earned a famous 40-29 win, their first against the Kiwis, ending a 111-year wait.

Pitched into action with the game still in the melting pot, the fly-half was unperturbed by the pressure and like every step up in class thus far, he made it look easy. Six months ago he had played just four minutes for Leinster and now he looks certain to continue writing his name in lights with club and country for the next decade.

As recipients of this award Gleeson and Carbery follow in some illustrious footsteps but given all available evidence, they'll have no problem filling those shoes.

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