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austin 'powers' After a difficult few years, Glesson is again a Déise Jedi weaving his magic

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Gleeson makes music that pulses through an arena

Gleeson makes music that pulses through an arena

SPORTSFILE

Gleeson makes music that pulses through an arena

AUSTIN Gleeson causes the jaw to drop like an untethered elevator plunging toward its basement grave.

Gleeson routinely announces the vast bandwidth of his hurling genius in something infinitely more resounding than a Waterford whisper.

His better moments are a boisterous adrenalin rush, as loud and rowdy and booming and anarchic, and gorgeously life-affirming as a riotous, amp-busting Jimi Hendrix guitar solo.

With a length of ash as his Fender Stratocaster, Gleeson makes music that pulses through an arena, kidnapping the senses, making the rest of the world disappear, transforming Croke Park or Semple into a 21st-century Woodstock.

With right hand or left hand, from any position on the field, he is equipped to carry his chosen code to that frontier where sport and Rock and Roll, ball-games and magic, all merge.

When Aussie, arm outstretched in Statue-of-Liberty-made-flesh mode, rises as if immune to gravity to pluck a ball from the sky, time seems to bend to a different dimension.

Then, when all in one movement, he lands, calibrates angle and distance and lasers a no-look 70-yard missile over his shoulder on a perfect trajectory to split the posts, it can feel almost hallucinogenic, an endorphin-release overload.

It is, to paraphrase the late, great David Foster Wallace in his flawless tribute to Roger Federer, a kind of hurling porn.

Like a Messi or Michael Jordan or, indeed, Ronnie O’Sullivan, the flamboyant if capricious wonder of the world another Déise colossus, John Mullane, identifies as Gleeson’s soul brother, Aussie can do things beyond the range of the rest of the field.

Masterpieces of style and nerve sufficiently miraculous to make his audience feel giddy and a little woozy.

A snapshot of his brilliance: A goal against Cork on his championship debut in 2014 that confirmed rumours a freakishly gifted teenager – one tutored at some hurling Hogwarts – was poised to seize the universe.

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Austin Gleeson of and Cillian Buckley fist bump following the All-Ireland semi-final match between Kilkenny and Waterford

Austin Gleeson of and Cillian Buckley fist bump following the All-Ireland semi-final match between Kilkenny and Waterford

SPORTSFILE

Austin Gleeson of and Cillian Buckley fist bump following the All-Ireland semi-final match between Kilkenny and Waterford

Intercepting a sideline cut on the Rebel 65, Gleeson ghosted by an opponent attempting to chop him down, racing on and on, a triumph of audacity, leaving four red pursuers gasping and broken, before burying the ball past Anthony Nash.

It felt like a Celtic tribute to Maradona’s second goal against England, something so mind-blowing and beautiful and logic-flooring that the inclination was to pinch yourself again and again to confirm it was more than a dream.

Like many exquisitely creative talents, the 25-year-old can be erratic, even surrender to the darker side.

Gleeson was sent-off in back-to-back club championship games this summer.

And where the graph of Kilkenny Rolls-Royce TJ Reid’s performances seems set at a constant nine out of ten, Gleeson can veer between 5 and 11 in the same game.

In the first half of last month’s epic semi-final against Kilkenny, he stuttered incoherently, a man asked to communicate in a foreign language for the first time.

Lyrical

Yet, after the break, he was as lyrical and poetic as a laureate, putting together an unstoppable sequence of what, for most of his peers, would be once-in-a-lifetime scores.

Gleeson declined to be phased by the early radar malfunction, trusted the sun would eventually rise.

When it did, his innate hand-eye co-ordination kicked in, and he morphed into an unerring sniper, pummelling the black and amber bull’s-eye from his eyrie somewhere in the next parish, carrying Waterford to wonderland.

He was again a Jedi knight.

A boy prince Hurler of the Year in 2016 – the then 21-year-old’s performances so mesmerising that, for the only occasion in the last 12 years, the jury looked beyond the All-Ireland-winning team for their winner – his form subsequently dipped and eddied like a plane caught in wind shear.

For more than three years – from their victory over Cork in an August 2017 All-Ireland semi-final for the ages, to the Halloween 2020 reawakening against the Rebels – Waterford did not win a championship match.

Gleeson, as the face of the team, 2016’s Chosen One, was the fall guy as the tapestry of the Déise story frayed.

As recently as 30 days ago, an Irish Times column by Jackie Tyrrell, one of those Brian Cody veterans with battle ribbons stitched into every seam of his uniform, asked the question: What ever happened to Austin Gleeson?

Tyrrell was generous in his praise, highlighting how the lack of a defined position, burden of expectation and pressure to lead a team to the summit, placed an unfathomable strain on a young player.

A fascinating 2017 quote from Gleeson detailed his post freshman-heroics mental struggle as he confronted difficult second-album syndrome.

“It was hard to get back up to those standards. I put a lot of pressure on myself. There was a couple of moments in games where I was starting to think, ‘It is turning now’, but then I would fumble a ball or something.”

Gleeson, it seemed, felt the urgent requirement to deliver something otherworldly-on-demand and that intolerable burden was weighing him down.

There is no crime in being a young man struggling to live up to demands.

Recent weeks have reminded us that a sorcerer resides in this hurler’s body.

Fitter and stronger than ever, with the maturity that arrives at the midpoint of his third decade – and the outstanding form of Stephen Bennett, Tadhg de Búrca and Dessie Hutchinson reducing the need for him to carry an entire county on his shoulders – Gleeson has thrived.

Tyrrell’s search for the old Gleeson concluded with a verdict that might unnerve Limerick if they were to believe it to be true. “Some kids are born to be stars. Richie Hogan, Cian Lynch, Tony Kelly, Joe Canning – Austin Gleeson is in that realm.

“Like TJ Reid, he had to come through his apprenticeship with hard work, which takes some time. But he is getting there. The second half of his career could see the best of him. If it does, we are in for a treat.”

Could it be that today at Croke Park, from the grave, Hendrix headlines Woodstock all over again?

Online Editors


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