WELCOME to The Standard's series Now and Then where we speak to Hampden league exports about their first senior games and seasons. Former Koroit gun and Carlton 1987 premiership player Adrian Gleeson reflects on his first and final games for the Saints.
Gleeson relished the opportunity to play with his older brother, Phil, in his debut game for Koroit in 1984.
"We were playing at South Warrnambool and we ended up winning which was nice," he said.
"As a kid growing up, I was the youngest of eight, I had a lot of brothers growing up who played at the footy club so it was nice to actually play with my brother (Phil) who was a previous best and fairest winner there.
"Paul Stafford was coach and Shane Quinlan was captain.
"I've still got strong relationships with those guys, I don't see a lot of them any more but it was a great highlight for me as a 16-year-old."
Gleeson was in year 10 at Warrnambool's Christian Brothers College - now known as Emmanuel College.
"We ended up making finals that year and unfortunately got knocked out in, I think it was the first semi," he said.
"That year I was playing Teal cup (under 18 championships) as well so I wasn't available at the start of the year.
"I think it was halfway through the year when I finished and got back from Sydney and played the rest of the year at Koroit."
Gleeson made his Carlton debut against rival Collingwood in 1986.
He'd play in the Blues' 1987 premiership win over Hawthorn and finish with 176 games and 174 goals.
The rover-forward was also named in the club's best 150 players of all time in 2014.
His decorated career also included his incredible 21st birthday party at his family's Southern Cross potato and dairy farm.
Gleeson said captain Stephen Kernahan and nearly everyone on the Blues' list travelled to the south-west for the celebrations.
"In 1988, I turned 21 and we played Collingwood out at Waverly," he said.
"A few of us were fortunate, we organised a flight from Moorabbin and got to Koroit about 8pm.
"But the rest of the guys and girls came in a bus, there was about 50 of them, and they arrived at midnight for the 21st.
"So we had a marquee at home on the farm and it went through the wee hours of the morning and they all enjoyed themselves."
It was a thrill for the Gleeson family.
"It was my third year at the club so I was lucky enough to play in a flag the year before in '87 and had lots of good friends.
"It was good to share the night with family and friends from Koroit and also the guys and girls from Carlton.
"It was pretty unique in some ways, I'm not sure that would happen now during the season but anyway we got away with it back then."
After winning back-to-back reserve best and fairest awards with Carlton in 1996-97, Gleeson had his sights set on a final year of footy with his home club.
"I was looking forward to it, I'd played all my juniors there and a couple of years in the seniors before I went to Carlton," he said.
But Gleeson, about 30 at the time, didn't get the fairytale finish he wanted.
He suffered a career-ending injury in his first game back in 1998 and never played again.
"It was against Cobden at Cobden, in the second quarter my knee just gave way and I ended up doing my anterior cruciate (ligament) so had to get a total knee reconstruction.
"I'd never done one of those before and it was pretty disappointing.
"I would have liked to have played my last year at Koroit but not to be."
Gleeson was prepared to travel to make his Saints dream happen.
"I was living in Melbourne with a young family and was going to commute back and forward but that got curtailed after the first game," he said.
"Ended up at the Boggy Creek Hotel and that was it, (career) done!"
Gleeson didn't realise the extent of his injury until returning to Melbourne.
"Obviously, I knew it was reasonably serious and went back to Melbourne on the Sunday and had the MRI on the Monday and they basically diagnosed 12 months, a reconstruction."
Gleeson's football career was over but he had plenty going for him off-field.
He completed a diploma in wealth management and had a wealth management business and advisory practice for most of his career.
His role involved advising people on their tax and investments.
These days AFL clubs have a huge emphasis on players doing something outside of football, such as studying or a trade, so they're set up for after their career.
Gleeson explained most players studied or worked during his era.
"Most people - 95 per cent - had a day job and then went off and did their footy four nights a week and played on the weekends," he said.
The Carlton premiership player said that started to change in the mid-1990s.
"When I first started, we trained at 4.30pm so everyone had a day job or uni or schooling," he said.
"Towards the end though it was becoming less common, training was earlier in the afternoons.
"But predominately it was still 4pm right up to the mid-90s when I finished."
Today he's executive director at Johns Lyng Group in Melbourne and has been with the company for a decade.
"We basically do a lot insurance rectification work, so when there's any impact to properties via fire, flood, wind, hail - we work on behalf of insurance companies to bring it back to original state," he said.
Gleeson took on a full-time position four years ago.
"My role there is really dealing with investors and attracting new clients to the group," he said.
Away from work, Gleeson is proud father to Mitchell, 24, daughter Alex, 20, and Tom, 18.
Tom plays for Calder Cannons in the NAB League and attends Assumption College in Kilmore.
"It's been a pretty tough year on him, it's been a tough year on everyone, but more so for kids turning 18 doing VCE and senior footy and NAB league," he said.
"(Marty) had a pretty horrific (ankle) injury 18 months ago and it's good to see him back playing and unfortunately Will has been injured a lot in the past few years.
"But he played 10 or 11 games last year, all the family were along to his first game at the 'G.
"I watch him when he's playing and obviously still support the Blues."
Gleeson loves the Blues and was on the club's board from 2006-2017.
"I had 12 seasons on the board and it was a big learning experience for me and something that was a great honour and privilege."
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