Austin Gleeson yesterday picked up the GAA/GPA player of the month award for August.
He was also the June recipient of same award. In what has been a fairly decent summer for the 21-year old, there have been a couple of player of the match gongs collected too, some he remembers less fondly than others.
Two minutes or so after referee James McGrath brought to an end Kilkenny’s absorbing All-Ireland SHC semi-final replay win over Waterford last month, a Sky handler approached a devastated Austin Gleeson on the Semple Stadium turf to inform him he’d been selected as their man of the match. Crystal needed collecting.
There was also the small matter of having to give a few words to the waiting Sky crew.
“It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do in my life,” recalls Gleeson.
“I was leaving the field in tears. I was trying to hold them back while doing the interview. I couldn’t look at the camera, I couldn’t look at the fella asking questions. I just wanted to get out of there as quick as I could.
“I would have rather been anywhere else in the world at that moment. I walked back into the dressing-room to fellas who have given so much to Waterford and nearly everyone was in tears.”
The Mount Sion prodigy scored 1-2 on the evening. It was no consolation.
The man of the match award? He’d have willingly pawned it for a spot behind the Artane Band last Sunday.
His thoughts on the evening haven’t changed.
It was, he says, the hardest defeat he has ever had to stomach.
“I can’t even describe it. It was almost like a death in the county. The whole county felt it. But I don’t think anyone could have felt it as much as we, the players and management, did on the field. Even in the dressing-room afterwards, it was just people sitting there for 40, 45 minutes not saying a word.
“That dressing-room was pure devastation. We were so close, yet the reality was that we were 12 months away from an All-Ireland final. I got the day off work on Monday and stayed in bed. I did absolutely nothing for the day. I was fatigued in every kind of way.
“I went back to work on Tuesday and you have all the people coming up to you wanting to talk about Thurles. You just have to act as if nothing happened. We had U21 training that evening, but I didn’t train. The fatigue was still there.”
Switching focus to the following weekend’s All-Ireland U21 semi-final against Antrim wasn’t easy and the Bank of Ireland employee paid tribute to the players who weren’t part of the senior set-up for taking the lead ahead of that game. The Déise, as expected, came through the fixture with a bit to spare. Galway followed them into the decider later that evening, setting up a repeat of the 2013 minor final.
“There were six U21 lads that featured in the two games against Kilkenny and if we can put the then All-Ireland senior champions to the pin of their collar, why can’t we do it at U21?
“There was a lot of talk that because we lost to Tipperary and Limerick in the 2013 Munster minor championship that we wound up winning a fluke All-Ireland. We are after proving this year that 2013 was no fluke All-Ireland.
“We beat Clare by 18 points, Tipperary by 10 and Antrim by 29. Those results prove that 2013 was no fluke. I know a lot of people are saying that we never beat this team or we never beat that team at minor.
“We are doing it this year and we are proving we have the team that can achieve.”
Gleeson was front and centre on the Wednesday evening below in Walsh Park when Tipperary were blitzed in the final quarter to deliver the Déise a first Munster U21 title since 1994. He was man of the match that evening too — three points from play clipped from centre-back.
“I was above in the press box doing an interview with Kieran O’Connor from the local radio station. I had to be brought down the back of the stand and onto the field because there were people waiting.
“I got a couple of pictures with people I knew and then I basically got dragged across the field for the man of the match presentation.
“I started jogging across and then I could hear my name being called. I looked behind and there were 70 or 80 kids running behind me. Kieran McSweeney was there doing the PR for Bord Gáis and he just started laughing. It was very weird.
“Nice, but weird.”
Something along those lines will do nicely tomorrow evening.
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