If, as Brian Gleeson explains, the GAA is like a religion in his hometown of Loughmore in Tipperary, then the gargantuan number eight has committed an apostasy of sorts.
Having had hurling as his no. 1 sport, while going onto represent Tipperary at U14 and U15 levels, Gleeson was converted to the oval game in the Munster rugby institution of Rockwell College.
Like many young and talented athletes in Ireland, destined for highest level, he was forced to make a choice. And, like Darren Sweetnam and Tomás O'Leary before him, hurling's loss has been Munster rugby's gain.
Ex-Ireland and Munster second-row Donnacha Ryan is another Tipp man with strong hurling roots - his father also played for Limerick - and is just another example of the beautiful crossovers between hurling and rugby that we see in Irish sport from time to time.
Gleeson also makes sure to note that Loughmore-Castleiney GAA club remains very close to his heart - going to matches is still a big part of his life - and he makes sure to praise those from his hometown who have all supported him on his journey.
I was actually more of a GAA man before I first went to Rockwell.
GAA is kind of a religion in Loughmore, it’s unusual that people don’t stick in the club. But I’ve had such great support from everyone locally and in the club, but still again I would miss playing the GAA, but now having to concentrate on rugby obviously you can’t play it anymore.
The Tipperary Giant
Brian Gleeson, Ruadhan Quinn & Jack Oliver start for the @IrishRugby U20s against Leinster Development today with Danny Sheahan, Evan O'Connell, Jacob Sheahan & Josh Costello among the replacements.
See full team news ⤵️#IrishRugby #SUAF 🔴
— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) January 6, 2023
READ HERE: Richie Murphy Names A Talented Ireland U20s Squad For The 2023 Six Nations
It's tough to write about Gleeson without commenting on his size, which resembles something of a cross breed mix of loosehead prop and second row. Along with the likes of Diarmuid Mangan and Ruadhán Quinn up front for the Ireland U20s, it makes for an unusually massive pack at this age group.
It was this size as well that had Gleeson very briefly playing in the front-row, before moving to his home at the back of the scrum.
"My very first game in Rockwell I played in the front-row, but I didn’t like that at all so I said I’m going to have to get out of here so I talked to the coach Martin Daly in first year and I wanted to move, and the next game after that I went to number eight and I’ve kind of been there for the rest of my playing career.
"About two years ago," he adds when asked about the last time he played a GAA match. "If I was at home and bored I might it the ball up against the wall just to try and keep a bit of touch in because you never know."
Gleeson, in fact, originally played for Thurles RFC as a young boy, before he gave it up for hurling. But his physical attributes, it seems, drew him back to rugby, along with his adolescent years at Rockwell where he also had the pleasure of working under the tutelage of Munster legend and now Munster defence coach Denis Leamy.
It’s been an unusual sort of a way. I started out when I was about six years old in Thurles, kind of because a lot of my school mates in primary school had started there. I decided that I’d try it out because I was quite a big fella, and my Dad had played in Thurles when he was younger.
So I kind of played for about three to four years, and I was going well in the hurling making the Tipperary U14s/U15s so I kind of went more to the hurling and football route and I actually gave up rugby in Thurles.
It’s only when I went to Rockwell I kind of took it up again because that’s kind of the only sport really that was going on in Rockwell at the time.
But I’m glad it has, and winning a Junior Cup when I was in third year, having Denis Leamy as a coach…. it’s really helped my game and lead me to getting on the Munster setups like U17 for two years, U19 for two years, and then here we are now.
Ireland begin their 2023 U20s Six Nations campaign against Wales, in Colwyn Bay, on Friday (kick-off: 19.00). The match will be shown live on Virgin Media.