‘He owes his county nothing’: Waterford backing for Austin Gleeson’s decision to take a break

Two men who have worked with the hurler say a period away from intercounty pressures could help him come back stronger

On hearing Austin Gleeson was stepping away from the intercounty game, Derek McGrath took out his phone and fired off a text message to his former player.

McGrath handed Gleeson his senior intercounty debut with Waterford in 2014. Two seasons later the prodigious Mount Sion player was named both Hurler and Young Hurler of the Year.

But, after 10 years on the intercounty hamster wheel, the 28-year-old has decided to take a break from the top level of the game. It’s disappointing news for Waterford and disappointing news for hurling, but McGrath believes it is the right thing for Gleeson.

“I texted him just to say I think it’s a great decision for him personally,” says McGrath. “I might get criticism for that, obviously from a Waterford perspective it’s disappointing, but I do think it’s the right thing for him.


“And I’m happy he has been able to reach that decision with maturity and clarity, I think it will give him a new perspective on the whole thing.

“For me, it’s just a good lad making a good decision and hopefully he will then come back refreshed and re-energised.”

Dan Shanahan was a selector with McGrath in 2014 when Gleeson made his breakthrough, and the 2007 Hurler of the Year echoes McGrath’s sentiments on Gleeson’s sabbatical.

“I know he has made the right decision for himself,” says Shanahan. “I’d trust that man with my life, to be honest, he’s not only a great hurler but he’s a genuinely lovely lad.

“I can totally understand the thinking behind his decision. I have dealt with Austin on and off the field down through the years, he’s an absolute gentleman, I don’t think people appreciate that about him.

“For such an incredibly talented player, I can assure you he is the most honest and humble lad I have ever dealt with.

“I’m obviously disappointed for Waterford, that we won’t be seeing him next year, but I’m pleased for Austin because this is what he feels he requires right now, and look he might need a year out, for his own head and his own wellbeing.

“Please God in 12 months we will see him back in a county jersey.”

And Shanahan says it is better to get such significant squad news in September rather than in January.

“I was kind of surprised when I heard but at the same time I wasn’t too surprised either, if that makes sense,” continues the Lismore man.

“Austin has been through a lot with injuries and stuff like that in recent years, there have been some harsh suspensions too. He has had a rough ride, especially with injuries. And there has always been expectation and pressure on him to perform and lead for Waterford.

“He is still only 28 but already he has played 10 years of intercounty hurling, that takes its toll. I think he has done the right thing for himself, but also he has done it at the right time to allow Davy get on with planning for next year.

“But there’s no point in denying it, he will be a humongous loss to the dressingroom. The leadership he brings to the group, the respect the rest of the players have for him, he’s going to be a massive loss. It’s a big blow to Waterford hurling.”

Gleeson explained to The Irish Examiner his reasons for stepping away: “I just don’t have the drive to do it, really.

“I need a break for a while, it’s not as if I’m never going to go back or anything like that. As Davy said to me, the door is definitely open if in the next few weeks or next month or two I have a change of heart.”

And Shanahan is confident Gleeson will indeed eventually be pucking sliotars in anger for Waterford again.

“Austin is such a special player that I’d be hopeful the break might be just what he needs to return better than ever.

“He owes his county nothing. It is up to Austin to go away now, refresh, and fall back in love with the game with his club. We all wish him well in that and look forward to seeing him back playing for Waterford when he is ready to return.”

McGrath feels Gleeson could actually return better than ever.

“I won’t say he has been the victim of rumours over the years but he has had to deal with a lot of talk, even around his positioning and so on,” explains the former Waterford manager. “I would say there is a lot of lazy analysis around his performances for Waterford over the years.

“He has a great family and great support system behind him, he’s going to enjoy a year now being with his mates while still hurling with his club, so he’ll be a bit freer.

“Then he might reach that epiphany moment one day when he says, ‘I might have another cut off it.’

“In fact, I’d argue that the break could actually bring him to a new level.”

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning is a sports journalist, specialising in Gaelic games, with The Irish Times