MARTIN Gleeson last pulled on a Koroit guernsey 16 months ago.
The talented teenager walked off Victoria Park with best-on-ground honours, his football future unclear.
A lot has changed since that round six match against South Warrnambool.
Gleeson’s transition from rising Hampden league star and TAC Cup regular to AFL player was completed in November, when Essendon snapped him up in the national draft.
He is now recovering from shoulder surgery which cut his first AFL campaign short and has his eyes on a Bombers debut early next season.
Gleeson, 19, loved his first season at the elite level, playing 13 games as a forward for the Bombers’ VFL side.
He is a Koroit success story.
And he hasn’t forgotten where his football journey started and then flourished playing under Saints veteran Chris McLaren in 2011.
Gleeson will stand among the Saints’ faithful today as Koroit strives for its first Hampden league senior flag since 2009.
“I have looked up results virtually every week to see how they’re going and I think I have watched three or four games,” Gleeson told The Standard.
“I am really excited for this weekend. I am probably more excited than half the players.
“I can’t wait to go and watch them and hopefully they get it.
“Koroit have a lot of good young players like Jayden Brennan, Haydn Drew, Seamus Blake, Levi Nagorcka and Drew O’Grady, so if they play well I think it will go a long way to them winning.
“You know Benny Goodall and all those guys are going to play well.”
The Saints’ season is still alive, but Gleeson’s ended prematurely.
He had arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder in July, ruling him out of the Bombers’ VFL finals series tilt.
Gleeson said he’d had some minor setbacks but was now on his way to starting Essendon’s pre-season on time.
“It happened back at the start of February. I went to tackle someone and it sort of jagged back,” Gleeson said of his injury. “We didn’t think much of it but at the end of NAB Cup and going into round one, my shoulder was getting sore.
“We went and got a scan and there was a pretty big tear in there.
“I was nearly going to go and get surgery then but they were like ‘it’s going to be three to four months’ recovery’. So if I got it done then, I was probably going to miss the whole year.
“So we strapped it up and decided I’d go in (for surgery) in July and hopefully it would be all right for the start of pre-season.”
Gleeson “loved” his first AFL season, although he admitted it was “mentally draining” at times.
He has enjoyed the running and is getting used to the regular weights sessions.
Drafted from North Ballarat Rebels after a stellar top-age season as a running defender, he played the bulk of this season as a forward, with Bomber officials impressed with his strong marking and leading patterns.
He knows what he must do to earn a senior call-up.
“Hopefully I can play round one next year, that is a goal of mine. I will quietly go about that,” Gleeson said.
“We had our exit meeting the Tuesday after the last round and they said to me the main thing is, now I have got my shoulder done, is get cracking at the gym.
“I started at 69 kilos and I got up to 74kg and I have dropped back to 71kg after my surgery and I am back up to about 73kg now.
“Hopefully I can come back at pre-season at 75kg or 76kg and then hopefully by the start of next year be about 78kg.”
Gleeson hasn’t had to look far to find inspiration, with Cobden export Jackson Merrett a Bombers teammate.
Merrett made his Essendon debut in round 23 last year and went on to play 13 games in his second season.
“I talked to him a fair bit throughout the year too. I am obviously pretty good mates with him,” Gleeson said.
He said Essendon’s depth meant he would have to earn his senior debut.
“As a club we want to keep improving on what we’ve done this year on the field and, if we can improve on that, who knows where we’ll go?” he said.
“So we’re pretty excited about next year.”