Tony Browne feels Austin Gleeson is poised to prove exactly why he was named 2016’s hurler of the year when Waterford take on Cork in the summer’s second All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park this Sunday.
Gleeson’s form was a source of some concern earlier this summer after a patchy league campaign and a mostly anonymous performance against Cork in the Munster semi-final, the latter ending prematurely after 63 minutes when he was replaced by Jake Dillon.
Lining out at corner-forward that day, the now 22-year-old was handed a roving role but failed to leave much of a footprint on the occasion in Thurles - though one of his two points was utterly magical. He has enjoyed better days out since.
Returned to centre-forward for the first qualifier, against Offaly, he claimed half-a-dozen points from play and engineered more again with assists and he has added another eight points from play in the subsequent defeats of Kilkenny, in Thurles, and Wexford in Pairc Ui Chaoimh.
Browne knows a thing or two about the pressures of being voted the nation’s best player. He earned that award 19 years ago now and he used that personal experience earlier in the year when talking to his fellow Mount Sion clubman who was also honoured with the young player gong last year.
“Times have changed since I won it back in ’98 and I just had a brief conversation based around what’s going to happen after and just to maybe give him a small bit of advice and tips. He’s handled it pretty well. I mean, he’s a very young player, he’s only 21 years of age.
“His potential as a hurler and an athlete is just phenomenal really. There’s a lot of pressure on him, a lot of pressure every day he goes out. People are expecting unbelievable things from him and I think he’s handling it pretty well.
“His first day out against Cork maybe he wasn’t playing in an ideal role as a hurler of the year, probably. He struggled and suffered there a little bit … He’s level-headed and we’re hoping that he will come right at the right time and show on the 13th why he is hurler of the year.”
Browne and Gleeson enjoyed two years soldiering together in the same Mount Sion side before the former finally called time on a storied career but the changes in the inter-county game have only quickened since his last game for the county in 2014.
Sweeper systems have become the topic du jour, not least in his native county, but Browne can see the practicalities behind their use even if the principle leaves him cold. Over-regulation, by contrast, is a scourge for which he sees no excuse.
“Let’s be honest, people are blaming the sweeper system for a lot of poor games and yet we have to look at a lot of issues like stop-start, technical fouls - even in football - black cards, hands up around the helmet area, different things like that.
“Silly type of things that we could just start leaving the game flow again. It’s probably an area that we need to look at and to get both football and particularly hurling flowing again.”
This isn’t a moan from someone blinded by a sepia-tinted past. Browne played in plenty of electrifying games with the Déise but one of his most treasured memories is the Munster title won in grittier fashion, against Cork, at the back end of his career in 2010.
It is actually far removed from being the ugly sister among his four provincial titles given a backdrop of an aging team and the dissolution of a generation that had provided so much to so many over the previous decade and more.
It was Browne’s last-gasp goal in the first game that actually necessitated the replay and the value of winning the replay for a county looking to build again was exemplified by his reaction at the final whistle when he ran exultant, arms in the air, the length of the pitch in celebration.
“I was probably pushing on at around 37, maybe 38 at the time. Obviously, we had taken a seriously bad day up (in Croke Park) in the 2008 All-Ireland final and to come back two years later to win a Munster final at that age...
“It wasn’t a brilliant game, it was under lights. It was replay at the time ... to bounce back two years later and win a Munster title and put Waterford some way back on the way after that poor day I suppose, it was certainly a highlight for me.”
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