David Clegg Recounts The Views Of Former International Centre, And Now Salford Assistant Coach, Martin Gleeson, On The Current International Scene
When you sit down and look over the details of our Assistant Coach, Martin Gleeson’s international career, it reads like a positive dream, as he rose from U21 level, at the turn of the century, eventually going on to lead his country, as captain, in a warm up match ahead of the 2008 World Cup.
That England U21 call-up came, in 2001, with their two match tour of South Africa, under the direction of Head Coach, John Kear, and his assistant, former Salford forward, Mike Gregory. Among the abundant talent within the group were the likes of Micky Higham, Chev Walker, Chris Thorman, and later-to-be Salford player, Rob Parker. It certainly appears to have been a squad which brought out the best in one another.
“I had more fun that week than at any other time I can remember,” grins Martin. “It certainly inspired us all to want to progress at international level.”
And progress, Martin most certainly did, and he did not have long to wait before he made the big step-up to full international honours, with his inclusion, the following year, in the mid-season, one-off test match, against Australia, in Sydney.
“We played a home Super League fixture for St Helens, against Hull, on the Sunday afternoon in July, and then immediately after the game, Paul Sculthorpe and I were picked up and taken to the airport,” he recalls.
“A few days later we were playing in Sydney, and I made my full international debut, starting off on the bench, before coming on at centre.”
Despite a heavy defeat, Martin thoroughly enjoyed the whole occasion, enhanced by his father’s having flown over from the UK to watch, together with the support of friends from his early days in Brisbane.
“It was a really great occasion, though with such a quick turn-around that it was almost like a ‘smash and grab’ – just in and then out,” he recounts.
“We were all still jet-lagged after the journey, and the circumstances surrounding the event might have been better, but I was not bothered; I’d got my first international cap.”
After having lived there for so long during his developing years, Martin was especially keyed up to play against the best team in the world.
“I was really keen to beat them,” he maintains. “After all it was my debut and it would have been great to have got it underway with a win. In addition, it was my first time back, since having left, at seventeen, and now aged twenty-two, I just loved being back there.
“A lot of the guys I’d known back then came down from Brisbane, to watch the game, and then we all met up afterwards. It was a really big occasion for me.”
From that point on, he gained a love for international rugby he has never lost, and he always experienced the same thrill every time he pulled on the shirt, which proved to be quite frequently in the seasons which followed.
“At the end of that season we returned down under to play the Kiwis. We not only won this match, but we then managed to beat them on virtually every occasion up to 2008,” he proudly informed me.
Not only that, he also featured, on occasions, among the scorers, as his career continued to unfold in 2004 with encounters against the Aussies and New Zealand, in the Tri-Nations Tournament, despite the fact that he had been sidelined with injury for the preceding six months.
“We were just beaten in the first of these, against Australia at the Etihad Stadium, but I scored the first try of the game,” he continues. “We then beat New Zealand twice, the Kangaroos at Wigan, and finished top of the group.
“The final, at Elland Rd, was a different matter, though. The Aussies gave us a pummelling in the first half, and won comfortably, 44-4.”
The three victory whitewashing of the Kiwis, in 2007, was probably the best overall result during the period in which Martin was involved, and, although the 2008 World Cup Competition was somewhat disappointing on the back of this, it was in the warm up, ahead of this, that he was selected as captain, against Wales, at the Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster.
“Adrian Morley and Jamie Peacock were not playing, and Head Coach, Tony Smith, must have seen me as next in line, so put me in charge for the match,” Martin explains. “It was a really great honour, and it was made all the more so by our winning.
“It was, in fact, always a great honour to play for either England or Great Britain, but especially Great Britain, which always felt the more special. That probably goes back to my days as a lad, watching the Hakka in front of fully packed stadia; that is what it is all about.
“Those are the games for me, and they always had a different feel about them, more so than just ordinary Super League games. They brought out the best in me; I just felt so alert in them and I always felt absolutely up for them.”
Next Time Martin Gives His Views Upon The Current International Game