David Clegg Recounts The Views Of Former International Centre, And Now Salford Assistant Coach, Martin Gleeson, On The Current International Scene
At the end of what to most have us will have been a rather disappointing Four Nations International Competition, some will now be wondering the extent to which next year’s World Cup Competition, down under, will live up to expectations, or the standard set at the home 2013 tournament.
With the exceptions of Australia, who, as expected, swept all before them, and Scotland, who were the only team to show improvement over the four weeks, there was little inspiration and encouragement to be gained from the on-field performances of the protagonists, and it will need significant reconsideration of a number of aspects, to change that.
One person who knows more than most, the obstacles the game over here has to overcome, in order to gain parity with the teams from the southern hemisphere, is our assistant coach, Martin Gleeson, who, not only has locked horns with the Kangaroos and Kiwis, on sundry occasions, he also spent a large proportion of his formative years, learning his rugby league, in the suburbs of sunny Brisbane.
He was aged ten, when his family made the decision to take the plunge and move half way round the world.
“My father was in the building trade, and in the early nineties it wasn’t that great,” he explains. “A friend of his had moved down to Brisbane and had been sending back positive vibes about life down under, so we decided to sell up and move down there to join them.”
He took with him, however, three years of rugby league development he had gained playing with Orrell St James’s ARLFC, which he had joined at the age of seven, and where he had featured in the second row, playing alongside three of our former Salford first teamers, Ian Sibbett, John Duffy, and David Highton. Andy Farrell’s father, Peter, was their coach, and, unsurprisingly, they formed one of the best teams in the competition.
“We were one of the top sides and I remember we always seemed to be at the top of the league,” he reminisces. “As time went on we picked up other quality players, such as Neil Roden, and later on, Paul Wellens.”
All of this had certainly given him a good grounding in the game by the time he arrived in Australia, where he was to remain until his eventual return, seven years later.
Upon his arrival he joined his local club, Beenleigh’s U10s outfit, where, initially, he continued to function in the second row, but his eyes were immediately opened wide to the context in which the game operated over there.
“It is absolutely massive there,” he enthuses. “Each club has around four teams playing at each level. The depth of talent this produces is incredible, and to get into the top side you have to outstrip a considerable number of other lads.
“The club is very much a community thing. Parents will take their children to training, and then go and socialise with one another and a drink at the bar, whilst watching the session.”
Understandably, his time there was most fulfilling, as he was playing in a really good side, which won a significant number of competitions.
“At home I have a cabinet full of trophies I have won,” he proudly proclaims. “Some of them are those won by the team, but some are personal ones, such as Player Of The Year.”
By the time he was coming to the end of his two seasons with Beenleigh, he had moved from second row to stand-off, and he continued there when he joined Slacks Creek’s U13 side, before moving on to play in his now recognised role of centre.
He, nevertheless, failed to be struck by the differences in the game, there, in comparison with those he had become accustomed to, when with Orrell.
“The game over there is much, much faster,” he professes, ”helped a lot by the near perfect pitches, which are both hard and dry. Tricky running and clever footwork are much easier to develop on that sort of surface. Just the build of the players, too, is much more of athleticism than here.”
A return to the UK, at the age of fourteen, for a protracted holiday, filled him with something approaching consternation.
“First of all everyone here seemed so much bigger and more cumbersome,” he remembers. “Then the pitches of slutch, snow and mud were extremely inhibiting, which goes someway to explaining why players’ footwork isn’t great here. You just can’t develop it in mud, and although we no longer play in the winter, we do our pre-season throughout the worst of the weather.
“The Australians train in better conditions than we play in. It’s a summer sport but we start in the depths of winter.”
Whatever the short-comings of the British game, Martin firmly believes that the more clement conditions, and their subsequent style of play, completely suited him, and enhanced his development, considerably. As a running stand-off half, he personally benefited from the high quality pitches.
For his final couple of years there, he moved to Logan Bros, which is an extremely big club. His final game before returning, permanently, to the UK, was in the President’s Flag.
“This was played at the halfway point of the season,” he explains. “There is a trophy for the winner, and winning this in what was my send-off game was great. There had been the offer for me to stay with my coach, but my parents persuaded me to return.
“I didn’t want to come back, really, because it is a totally different culture over there. Everything is much more spread out. We lived out in the sticks so to go to a shop on your bike would take about an hour. You couldn’t just call for your mates on the spur of the moment, you had to be taken by car and dropped off by one of your parents.
“It can be a bit lonely and desolate, and you can go for spells without seeing others your own age. That’s another reason why rugby is so very important there, because it provides a focal point for everyone to meet up.”
Next Time Martin Recounts His Memories Of His International Playing Days