'He was a very strong hurler". "He had great courage was willing to face anything". "He never gave less than his best for the team". These are some of the statements that one hears of Jack Gleeson of Shanballa, the Cashel man who played for Rockwell Rovers. as well as his own parish, the hurler who left Cashel for Roscrea in his prime and won All Irelands with Tipperary and London Irish.
Jack's father, Nicholas, played with the old Racecourse team and he was a fanatical follower of the game of hurling. Into the Second World War, Nicholas and his boon companion, John Mannion, used to cycle to matches in Thurles. Both were then into their seventies. As an acquaintance of theirs put it: "Everyone's character was safe in their company because they spoke of nothing but the hurley and the ball". Nicholas himself was a Drombane man, where his father, a school teacher lived. A brother of his, Timothy, who later taught in Cloneyharp N.S. hurled with the Thurles Blues and won two All Irelands. He also played at Fontenoy in 1910.
In the same year Jack was born. His father, who worked at Rockwell College, married a girl from Carrick-on-Suir. As well as Jack they had two daughters, one of whom died in 1939. The second, Helena, still lives in the family home at Shanballa.
Jack attended Templenoe N.5. and later Cashel C.B.S. He showed good hurling ability and was vice-captain of a very successful C.B.5. team in 1927 that won ten out of thirteen games. This success led them to enter the Harty Cup competition in 1928 but they were beaten by Carrick-on-Suir in the first round.
When he finished school Jack went to Rockwell to work as a butcher. It seems that he began to play for Rockwell Rovers. at this stage of his career. He doen'st figure for Cashel until 1931 when the team was beaten by Knockavilla-Donaskeigh in the West final. In fact his name doesn't appear in the earlier games and he may have been drafted in for the final. This suggestion is borne out by the fact that he didn't play for Cashel in 1932 but, instead, turned out for Rockwell Rovers. He was definitely on the Cashel team that won a West final for the first time in 1933 in junior hurling. The team was beaten in the county semi-final by Bawnmore at Nenagh.
In the following year Jack Gleeson played an important part in Cashel's first senior hurling victory. He played a dominant role in this victory at centre field over the Clonoulty Cusacks. He also played a major part in the county semi-final which Cashel lost to Moycarkey\Borris. According to one newspaper account: "Gleeson was the hero of the team and he certainly deserved all the praise he got. Jack also played on the county junior hurling team which was defeated in the Munster championship.
His hurling career with Cashel came to an end the following year when the team was surprisingly beaten by Knockavilla-Donaskeigh. Either at the end of 1935 or the beginning of 1936 Jack moved,to Roscrea to take up employment with Roscrea Meat Products Ltd. He played with the local club that year and helped the team to win the North final of 1937. As luck would have it Cashel were West champions that year and the two sides played the county semi-final at Borrisoleigh. Cashel were behind by nine points at half time but came storming back to win by a goal. Gleeson got plenty of slagging from the Cashel supporters in Borrisoleigh that day.
Jack Gleeson played in the county colours for one year and won a senior All Ireland medal. He had a short reign. He came on the team in 1937, played at centrefield with Jimmy Cooney, and was dropped after the All Ireland which was played at Killamey that year.
Tipperary created a surprise in the Munster final when they defeated the famous Limerick team that was regarded as one of the greatest hurling combinations in the history of the G.A.A. The star of the victorious team was Tommy Doyle but, according to one newspaper report, Jack Gleeson vindicated his selection at centrefield: "Perhaps too much was expected of Cooney, but whatever it was, Gleeson stole most of his thunder and justified the confidence of the selectors. A rugged, rather than a spectacular worker, he revelled in the hard exchanges and staked a very strong claim to a permanent berth on the team".
Tipperary had a rather facile win in the All Ireland final at Killamey over Kilkenny. The match was played outside Croke Park because of the construction of the Cusack Stand and the final score was 3-11 to 0-3 in Tipperary's favour. Jack Gleeson was again at midfield and forty two years later a fellow player on that day, Bill O'Donnell, in a get-together of some of the team reminisced thus: "We missed most of all the pair who provided the link between defence and attack, a partnership that seldom gave best to any two, the hardworking, never-give-up, Jack Gleeson, and one of Ireland's greatest midfielders ever, Jimmy Cooney".
Not many followers of Gaelic Games realise that Jack Gleeson has a distinction which is possibly unique: he won two All Irelands in successive years with different counties and in different countries! He left Roscrea soon after winning the All Ireland in September 1937 and went to work at Clover Meats at Waterford. While there he fell in love with a girl who emigrated to London. Jack followed in 1938 and started work in Walls meat factories. He joined London-Irish and won on their team in the All Ireland junior hurling championship. They defeated Cork in the final, which was played in London that year and, thus, Jack won a second All Ireland medal.
Jack Gleeson married and settled down in London. He had two sons. He did well at his job and when he died in 1970 he was a successful man. His remains were brought home for burial and he was interred in the family plot at Kilvalure, Drombane, in the company of his father and grandfather. .
West Tipperary G.A.A. by J.J. Kennedy. Pub. by West Tipperary G.A.A. Board, 2001, pp 401 - 402