Gleeson glad to have the weight of expectation off his back
Two years ago, Austin Gleeson was the Deise talisman who put the swash into buckle on epic days in Croker and Thurles.
A year later, even in the midst of Waterford's march to an All-Ireland SHC final, Gleeson was "walking around with my head in my boots, as if I had no kind of confidence."
What had gone wrong? Good question. But being named Young Hurler and especially overall Hurler of the Year in 2016 didn't help. Waterford had exited the race for Liam MacCarthy after a pulsating semi-final replay with Kilkenny in Semple Stadium, but that didn't halt the flow of plaudits.
Dealing with that, Gleeson now accepts, became a burden. There were flashes of genius against Cork last summer, both in Munster and the All-Ireland semi-final - but not enough.
"It was not pressure coming from other players or management, it was pressure coming from myself," he recounts, speaking at yesterday's Croke Park launch of the Littlewoods Ireland Go Games Provincial Days.
"I don't know why I was doing it, but it was just that I wanted to go out and prove why I was given those awards - and it just did not go for me.
"Everything I tried seemed to not come off. There were 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. I suppose I was trying too hard, but this year is a new year and I am looking forward to it."
So far this season, the biggest impediments have all been physical. Last Saturday, on club duty for Mount Sion against Roanmore, he suffered a hamstring injury. This followed earlier setbacks against Tipperary (quad) and Clare (ankle); the latter forced him to miss Waterford's Division 1A relegation play-off defeat to Cork.
Gleeson is still awaiting a scan on his hamstring but has over seven weeks to get fully up to speed for Waterford's opening round-robin Munster SHC clash against Clare. While the schedule of four games on consecutive weekends will test his body, a player who won't turn 23 until June is hopeful that his head will be in a better place this summer.
"Definitely, you learn from your mistakes," he says. "Last year the pressure was on me but this year I am determined to go out and do what I did as a 16-y ear-old and just enjoy it.
"I am not saying that I was not enjoying myself last year - but everything I did wrong I was kicking myself and everything I did right I was thinking I could do better."
Was it a case that teams targeted him more last summer?
"A small bit, not overly," he replies. "In certain games I was being man-marked. In the All-Ireland final, Gearóid McInerney followed me everywhere I think.
"At one stage we had a sideline and I was on the other side of the field and he literally followed me until I put the ball down on the ground. I knew at that stage he was just not going to leave me alone.
"I was getting it the last few years at club level as well, so it's something you just have to try to do, work your way into the game no matter where you are."
Experience has taught Gleeson that he needs to cut himself some slack.
"I looked back over winter on a lot of the games last year, and you could see that that I was walking around with my head in my boots as if I had no kind of confidence," he admits.
"Again, I don't know why it was like that but this year, if I'm getting man-marked, I just need to get into the game. It doesn't matter if I don't get a ball but if I get three or four hooks, that's something I've got to do for the team.
"It's not what a lot of people might say," he concludes, "but having the awards off my back is a release I suppose, in a way. That you can go out and there's no pressure … just go out and play free-flowing hurling again, and see how it goes."