Austin Gleeson – Part 2
You can read “Austin Gleeson Part 1 – The Phantom Goal” here.
In 2017 I didn’t come near the heights that I did in 2016, I just couldn’t get back as fit as that again.
In the Winter of 2016 I’d have gone to the opening of an envelope. I was getting invited to a lot of awards and going to them to see what it was like. I was 21, just not used to it all and thought this might never happen to me again.
Without realising it I was putting on weight and I couldn’t shake it for the life of me for a while. Only coming into the Championship was I starting to get fully fit again and that was my own fault – no one else to blame.
When nothing’s going right on the field I’m not good on the self-belief and the self-control and my gym was never the best. I find preseason very hard. The last two years my gym’s after improving but there’s a load of stuff I’m not good at, like the gym and getting stronger and my diet.
”If I look at a burger and I'm not training I put on about three stone!
Getting that right, I find tough. In 2017 if I missed a ball I was gone out of the game mentally for the next five minutes because I was thinking, ‘why’d I miss that? I wouldn’t have missed that last year‘. So, the winter of 2016 and my mentality in 2017 are the two big things I’d change looking back. And the All-Ireland final…
Galway were only a point up or it was a draw when I got on the ball, the first time I properly got the ball into my hand and I went to get around Gearoid McInerney and I couldn’t. He’s 6’4 and 16 stone, he’s not an easy man to get around, and he’s a lot quicker than I thought he was. After that moment I was just thinking, ‘this is not my day’ and he was everywhere, tuned in and dominating really.
I’ve learned so much from the experience.
The helmet thing didn’t bother me at all beforehand because I didn’t mean to do it, I wasn’t even looking at him. If something had come of it, I don’t know what I’d have done. Would I have given the same effort in 2018 as I did in 2017 if I’d been ruled out of an All-Ireland final for something that had no malice in it? I don’t know. I was just thankful I was able to play, and it didn’t distract me in any way.
There’s so much I can still improve on. No player is perfect, and you have to keep improving.
We had a sports psychologist in before and I was probably a bit of a disbeliever. I was 20, thinking ‘why do I need this kind of thing?’. Two years later, though, I’m seeing this actually does help. After the league this year we had Keith Barry come in and I sat down with him a few times. He gave us voice messages to listen to at night to totally relax and it did help. I also used a meditation app called ‘Headspace’ a couple of times too.
There were a few times this year where I think I didn’t do the same thing and moved on (mentally) so I think they helped.
When you’re injured you have to look after yourself a lot more. I was never properly injured before this year really which was why I found it particularly hard.
I came into this season thinking ‘work, work, work’ but, in February, against Tipperary, I tore a quad muscle. The following week against Kilkenny I wasn’t playing well and was taken off. Then two weeks later against Clare I got that ankle injury. I still don’t know exactly what happened, but it was probably a blade that caught my ankle and it was a deep enough gash. We had to leave it open a small bit to leave the blood flow out or there could have been a clot, but then it got infected and that put me out of the relegation game with Cork.
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Two weeks later we played Roanmore in our first club game and 10 minutes in I tore my left hamstring. I missed the following week against Passage and then the first night back, against Offaly, I burst my shoulder.
I wanted to play so I didn’t say anything, just got it strapped, went out and played the following week against Dublin when I did the ligaments in my ankle. I’m still not right from that. Then we were into the Munster championship, I missed the first game and really, I wasn’t fit for any of them after that.
There were times in the summer of 2018 I honestly did think, ‘Are we cursed or what?’
Look at the Clare game. Tadhg de Búrca got a bang on the collarbone. Six minutes later it snapped… while he was running! Then Barry breaking the bones in his hand, Darragh Fives pulling his calf muscle again and Noel gone and then, in the Limerick game, we lost Shane Fives! After four minutes we had only one of the backs that played in last year’s All-Ireland final.
Everything just went wrong for us this summer but after every game we just had to park it and move on and I think we actually did it well.
We could have shied away and used it as an excuse – the injuries, fellas not fit, the home venue thing, four games in a row – all that stuff. Inside our circle, there were no excuses.
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”After the Clare game the first thing Derek said was 'No excuses. We've 15 fellas on the field just like the other team and I think we gave it a go.'
We were written off in two games this year and probably could have won both of them. Against Cork it took a Seamus Harnedy goal in the last few minutes to kill us off.
I don’t buy into the four games in a row thing either. You just have to be fit enough. I don’t even think we had many players who played four in a row anyway, given our injuries!
It was just the calamity of everything. Nothing much upsets me except people getting on to my family. The one that really stuck out was my granny was in a shop after the All-Ireland final last year and someone said: ‘Hey, what was up with the other fella last week? He was useless!’.
Why are they saying that to her? It’s not like she knows the answer!
When your family are getting questioned like that you’re thinking, ‘What’s the point in doing it really?’. Grand, if it’s me, I can laugh it off and I’ve said to her, ‘Why are you getting upset about it when, if it’s said to me, I’m laughing it off.’
”You're my grandson, that's why.
It’s heavy stuff when it hits the family like that. If you’re a professional player, you can probably escape that kind of stuff but in the GAA we can’t.
My sister Jessica has played soccer for Ireland and even though there’s only a few years between us we actually don’t ever talk about sport, apart from a good luck message or ‘how’d you get on today?’ The weird thing is that she’s played at an even higher level than me but because of people’s perceptions of male and female it’s very different for us.
Jessica’s after doing something I’ll never do – came third in a European Championship with the Irish U17s, represented her country in probably the number one sport in the world!
That’s something I’m really proud of but then you look at the male/female thing in sport and you see how horrible it is.
She’s won two or three League of Ireland titles and yet she’s working in a normal job. I’ve nothing against them but you look at men’s players for Dundalk and Cork. Some of them are paid three or four-digit sums weekly while Jessica has to pay for her expenses up to play for Shelbourne. In my opinion, that’s wrong. Even with the men’s and women’s GAA it’s like they are competing against one another, instead of coming together and developing the two sports together.
I can understand why people criticise me sometimes. Take that goal against Cork in 2017. They were right, I should have passed the ball! If I was managing the team I’d have been shouting ‘pass the ball, pass the ball!’. Only once out of ten times will that kind of a goal come off because there were so many defenders around. All I had to do was pass it to Brick and he’d have goaled.
I genuinely don’t know what went through my head.
I actually missed the catch when Padraig hand-passed it to me, I had the motion to shoot for a point straight away and missed it! Mark Ellis was getting ready for a block and I just kept going, it just happened really!
Derek always let me be creative. He always said ‘once you go out and have your job set on the field you should express yourself’. Once you’re happy we’re happy kind of thing. I know the majority of the shots I took previously were crazy but I think, in the last few years, I’m after calming down on it a small bit. It was just something I had to learn and grow out of.
When you’re soloing with the ball you’re half-looking in front of you and half-looking at the ball and you can’t really look around at times, so it was often just in the moment stuff. Then, the second you hit the ball you look up and see someone and think ‘Oh God I should have passed that ball!’
Against Tipperary this year I had a shot and it went wide but it wouldn’t even have gone over the bar if I had connected properly. DJ Foran went straight through, was on the ’45 and had a good bit to go, but he’s like lightning and I knew if I’d given him the ball he’d have gone through.
Looking back at the video I remember thinking if I’d have slid that through to him, a ten yard pass on the ground, he was through. But none of the lads ever ate anyone, that’s how we were as a team. We’d never scream at one another, it’d be more like, ‘Listen, next time just slip it through, right?’ There was always encouragement, not screaming or bawling.
I haven’t had a summer holiday since 2007 and we’ve always wanted to do The Galway Races so there’s a gang of us going up to Ballybrit for two days. Obviously, I didn’t think the year would be so short so, back in February I booked a holiday for November as I have family over in Chicago so myself and the girlfriend are going over.
It’s going into 60 years since Waterford brought back the Liam MacCarthy cup. I’d give up every single personal achievement, hurler of the year, all of it, and even sit on the bench, no problem, just to win an All-Ireland senior medal.
Derek and Dan have moved on – Waterford hurling owes them so much – but we’ll keep driving forward come 2019.
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