Waterford’s Austin Gleeson can’t wait for Saturday’s All-Ireland Final against familiar rivals, Galway, in Semple Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile.
All-Ireland U-21 Hurling Final: Waterford v Galway:
The modern conflict between these Waterford and Galway factions dates back to Tony Forristal times according to centre back and part-time historian Austin Gleeson.
“We drew with Galway in the group and we were lucky to get a draw out of it,” he remembers distinctly. “We were sitting in the Holy Cross and getting a bit of grub before the semi final we could have had against Wexford. Galway were playing Offaly and we did a number on Offaly that day. We firmly believed that Galway could do the same if not more. We were kind of downbeat and we went up and watched the last few minutes of the match. It ended up that Offaly actually did us a favour. I’ll never forget it, we actually celebrated it more than any other game! We went out and defeated Wexford then. On the day after, Tipp nailed it down to us. That was the start of the horrible run that we had. We got beaten in that final, the under 15 final, the under 16 final and then a Munster final. Thankfully, we broke it in September 2013 when we won the All Ireland.”
A fresh faced Gleeson plied his trade as a makeshift shot stopper during those underage tournaments. “I was just launching puckouts, I wasn’t really great on my feet in the goal! I was more so too lazy to try anywhere else. We were caught for a keeper so I said that I’d go in there. I ended up staying there until minor.”
Dermot Dooley was largely responsible for his move outfield with the school team in De La Salle College and Sean Power duly slotted him in at number six for the minor championship opener against Tipp in Walsh Park. That 2-18 to 1-15 loss to the All Ireland champions proved a blessing in disguise as Waterford used the backdoor route to discover a settled formula. “The defeat against Tipperary was the first time we were together in a few weeks because De La Salle and Dungarvan were going so well in the Harty. It was actually tough to get everyone together. We played Tipp towards the start of April and between that and the Munster final there was ten either positional or personnel changes in the team. It was more so trying to figure out a team back then. It probably helped us a lot more than going into a semi final against Limerick and anything could have happened. We wouldn’t have been playing in a Munster final let alone an All Ireland final if we played Limerick.”
The exact details of that September final with the Tribesmen are a little fuzzy for the 21 year old. “I’d say I’ve only watched it back once or twice. It was literally one of those days that I can’t remember a thing from. It was almost like a dream I suppose. I watched it three or four days after and I couldn’t remember this happening and that happening. The one thing that sticks out in my head is Patrick’s goal and the way he took it. He was so quick off the mark when the short puckout came to the full back. It was the real turning point in that game and we went on and won the All Ireland from there. Sliding in front of the Hill and all that, it was just one of those days that will live long in the memory.”
‘MUST PLAY LIKE WE CAN’
The team in all white kicked for the finish line after Curran’s major and had eight points to spare at the final whistle. Gleeson claims that Galway will try and bend it to their advantage on Saturday. “The scoreline flattered us a small bit. In the last few minutes of the game, we took off. Patrick got the goal and I think Stephen Bennett, Mikey Kearney and Tom Devine got a couple of points as well. They’re going to have that in their back of their heads and with the bookies having us hot favourites, it will suit them down to the ground. They’ll believe fully that they’re going to cause a massive upset. We have a job to do and as long as we put our heads down and don’t listen to what everyone is saying outside of the circle. If we believe in each other and go out and play like we can, we believe that we can get the result.”
Gleeson and company have used this year’s under 21 competition to cushion hefty senior knockbacks throughout the summer. First up, they opposed Clare at Walsh Park barely three days after being subjected to a 21-point shellacking from Tipperary in the Munster final. “We tried to get that Tipp game out of our heads as quickly as possible. To be fair to the management, they succeeded in that and we gave a great performance against Clare. It was the same way against Antrim, even harder than the senior Munster final to turn around after being so close to beating the All Ireland champions twice and to get in the right frame of mind to play Antrim. Look, we just had to do it and the lads were emphasising to park it and use it as hurt.”
Waterford have started each leg of this journey as warm favourites but management have kept them well-grounded so far. The young hurler of the year elect doesn’t want that habit to change now. “They’ve just said to forget about it. It goes back to the saying that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. If we don’t work hard, we are going to get beaten. There’s no second chances at under 21, everyone has to turn up and play well. Thankfully, so far we’re after turning up in the second half of games and playing well. We know that if we don’t turn up for the first half the next day that it’s going to be a lot harder to crawl back. The lads are just emphasising the work rate and as long we do that, we’ll be alright.”