Gleeson was carried off the field after flying into a mark contest and landing awkwardly on his left ankle, with signs indicating his season could be over before it had started.
“I was a bit bewildered at what I’d actually done,” Gleeson told AFL.com.au this week.
“I walked out of getting an x-ray and the guy couldn’t tell me what I’d done, but he said ‘Are you sore?’ And I said ‘I’m not too bad at this stage’ and he raised his eyebrows,” Gleeson said.
“Then I had a call from ‘Reidy’ (Essendon club doctor Bruce Reid) straight away and he said ‘You’ve got to go straight to the Epworth Hospital, you’ve got a pretty nasty ankle injury, you’ll be getting surgery at 7.30 in the morning’. I got sore straight away once I knew what had happened.”
Gleeson’s father attended the preseason match and shortly drove him back to Melbourne where Gleeson would immediately require scans.
The diagnosis was alarming, as Reid had only dealt with the same injury once before in nearly 40 years as Essendon’s club doctor.
The 24-year-old had split his talus bone in his ankle so much so that Gleeson was unable to distinguish any fracture, not knowing the two bones were meant to be one. The fracture had dislocated his heel after it was dragged forward almost a centimetre.
Gleeson faced the whole 2018 season on the sideline, missing more than 12 months separating games and 656 days between being named in the clubs AFL line-up.
The Bombers were first hopeful that the defender’s injury would only cost him up to three months on the sidelines, where he could see a return in the second half of the season. But following the required and immediate surgery, clouds began to cover over any certainty.
“I thought if I did everything right then I might be able to pull off some miracle,” Gleeson said, “but then I was on crutches for 16 weeks and in a moonboot for 18 weeks, so I knew it was going to be a long way back.”
By March this year, Gleeson returned to full training and was soon selected to play in a VFL practice match, where he was excited yet nervous.
Gleeson’s return to the clubs back six was halted as he fractured his cheekbone while playing in the VFL in April. But Gleeson’s fight and determination to return to AFL level was rewarded four weeks ago when he was named in the clubs side against Greater Western Sydney in round 15.
The Bombers have enjoyed a purple patch in form since his return, collecting four wins and catapulting the club into the top eight.
“I’m back loving it. At the end of this year it’ll be good to sit back and reflect on the journey and everything that’s happening and give myself a little pat on the back,” Gleeson said.