Tag Archives: Tony Browne

We shall never see his like again

Tony Browne departs...

We’ve all had a good laugh over the years at the expense of Ger Canning, and his suggestion during the 2004 Munster final that Tony Browne was “coming to the end of a wonderful career” certainly ranks up there alongside his assorted spoonerisms and malapropisms. Still, you really should view it with mirth rather than irritation because 1) he said nice things about the great man, and 2) was it really that unreasonable an observation at the time?

Saying that Waterford went 29 years without winning the Munster title in 2002 – now that was off the wall.

Speaking for myself, I was on a hair-trigger for a number of years with the retirement tribute. The photo above was taken conscious of the idea that it might be the last time that we saw him in a Waterford jersey. But that was nearly two years ago and when the moment came on Thursday, I wasn’t ready at all. Here was a man of such stature that I managed to feel a twinge of disappointment that my son was born on July 2nd, a day after the birthday of the great man. Had the passage of time and being up to my elbows in nappies meant that I couldn’t get inspiration to say something on his retirement? For shame!

Thankfully Twitter came to the rescue, erupting with so many tributes that #TonyBrowne started trending. It got me to thinking seriously about what made him great. It’s important to do this because the lull right at the end of his career might give the impression that his reputation was built around his longevity, which would do him a terrible disservice.

Tony Browne Waterford Comhraile na nOg

(photo taken from a hoarding in Cathedral Square)

He was, of course, a great hurler, a combination of style – witness his delightful flick of the wrists which finally pushed us past the point of no surrender in the 2002 Munster final – and teak-tough bravery – sticking his face in the way of the last shot in the 2010 final replay. Then there was his presence. From the first moment I encountered him up close, addressing the crowd after the Under-21 victory in 1992 with a panache that belied his tender years, he oozed confidence without ever being arrogant. In a sport dominated by culchie understatement, he had a townie swagger that separated him from his peers and made him stand out on the national stage. You only have to look at the various points of the four green fields from where the tweets hailed to see how he touched so many lives beyond his native county.

What made him so special in Waterford though was how he, more than any other player, restored our sense of well-being after the horrors of the 1980’s. The other legends of the 1992 team, Fergal Hartley and Paul Flynn, were great hurlers too. But Hartley didn’t have that swagger and Flynn was too mercurial, and when Waterford burst back onto the national stage in 1998 it was Browne who was the poster child for the county. It was he who was at the heart of the turmoil with Clare, it was he who pulled us up by the bootstraps in the quarter-final against Galway, it was he who kept us in that tension-soaked semi-final against Kilkenny, and it was he who finally gave us something tangible to show for it all – only our fourth-ever All Star and Hurler of the Year. My brother told of how Tony came to Tramore to award some medals and an old man approached him, tears in his eyes, and thanked Tony for giving us back our dignity. He set the bar very high that year, and he never let it drop over the seasons that followed.

The final word I leave to Enda McEvoy:

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Reflections on the weekend when all things seemed possible

Having being given the hairdryer treatment for not being sufficiently worshipful to Clare after our first defeat in the year’s Championship, it is incumbent upon me to congratulate Kilkenny on their victory. The miles on their clock are beginning to show, but while Waterford may have shown amazing spunk in constantly getting up off the canvas, Kilkenny showed what great champions they are by never once getting flustered by this opponent that, contrary to the evidence of every encounter in recent memory, refused to give up. It’ll be fine, just tack on a few more points there. They didn’t win nine of the last fourteen All-Irelands for nothing. Who would have guessed?

And let’s have a big hand for the Kilkenny supporters around me on the terrace. Sure, during the match tempers got frayed, and there was one baluba who seemed determined during the first half to act as if the Kilkenny players couldn’t lift their arms without him being their puppet master. But I get the feeling he was told to wind his neck in by his friends at half-time, and everyone else was magnanimous after the final whistle. You could argue that it’s easy to generous in victory, but I didn’t sense any insincerity and it would also be easy to start crowing at the people who had spent most of the past two hours celebrating every score you had conceded. Credit where credit is due, they did themselves and their county proud.

The Minors came within a whisker of being a victim of the kind of smash-and-grab that we nearly perpetrated against Kilkenny. I wasn’t at the game, but you don’t need to have been there to know that losing an eight-point lead with ten minutes remaining is never good. At least they have a second bite of the cherry and we won’t have to face Limerick in their own back yard, outnumbered by at least 20 to 1. While it requires a spectacular piece of mental gymnastics to rationalise having the replay of a game initially staged in Limerick take place in a neutral venue, I can just about give it credit. The Senior final is played at one of four venues capable of holding them – Thurles, Cork, Limerick or Killarney. If the Senior participants agree on a home-and-away arrangement, the Minor game follows. Otherwise, the games are played at a neutral venue. The logic works – just. What I don’t understand is why it has to be Thurles. There isn’t going to be more than a few thousand at it and the game is going to be swallowed up in the immensity of Thurles. Venues like Tipperary, Bansha and Fermoy all spring to mind as places that can be easily accessed by the supporters of each county. Maybe demand will be greater than supply, but is that such a bad thing? The Under-21 final was played in Fraher Field in 2009 and the buzz preceding the game as there was a scramble for tickets justified the decision to play it a small venue. I can’t shake the feeling that the Munster Council object to their showpiece occasions being played at the diddy venues. Bansha just wouldn’t be grand enough for the insecure Munster mandarins in Limerick.

Speaking of insecurity, Munster and Limerick, how wonderful it was to see the supporters of the Shannonsiders rejoicing in their first provincial title in seventeen years. I couldn’t suppress a wry smile at the scale of their joy though. For the last decade we’ve been routinely told that winning a Munster title means nothing if you don’t add the All-Ireland. Funny how no-one saw fit to mention that on Sunday. More seriously, in the wider scheme of things winning a Munster title isn’t all that for Limerick. A Limerick man in my presence once bemoaned winning five Munster titles between 1974 and 1996 yet not winning the All-Ireland. He got pretty short shrift from the pre-2002 Waterfordmen around him. A seventeen-year famine? First world problems. It’ll be interesting how they react should this sixth Munster title since 1973 not yield the McCarthy Cup. It’d be great if I didn’t get to see the results of that scenario.

And finally: is this the last time we’ll see this?

23 Waterford v Kilkenny 13 July 2013 - Tony Browne

Emptying the bench

When the GAA decided to allow five substitutions in a match it was always likely to benefit the bigger teams more than the minnows, possessing as they do greater strength in depth. And we saw that in spades today as Cork threw on a number of players in a desperate attempt to save this match, and it worked as all that Cork did well in the last fifteen minutes came courtesy of a player with a 2 on his back. Another season over, and you wonder if the photo above is that last time we will see Tony Browne in action for Waterford…

Top heavy Stars

It’s a sign of how far Waterford have come over the last decade that I can manage to be a little disappointed at the amount of nominations we received for the 2009 All Stars. This philosophy of stuffing the nominations with nearly everyone who played in the All-Ireland final then filling the gaps with a handful of AN Other’s is enough to give you a dose of gas. Thirteen nominations for Tipperary? Why didn’t they just go the whole hog and give one to Benny Dunne?

Having said that, it’s hard to argue with an All-Ireland final that was for the ages. And nominations are really only worthwhile to players who have never had a nomination, so Noel Connors should be pleased at the national recognition. For the rest of them,  Clinton Hennessy and Tony Browne will be under no illusions. Hennessy’s chances, slim enough to begin with, would have been snuffed out by PJ Ryan’s match-winning performance in the All-Ireland final. And Tony Browne will probably look on it as a lifetime achievement nomination. Don’t expect to see him anywhere other than Waterford on the big night.

Which leaves two men standing. John Mullane is a lock. Guilt about his being overlooked last year should override any concerns about his wild performance in the semi-final against Kilkenny. He might even get Hurler of the Year, what with the whiff of sulphur that is lingering around Tommy Walsh (which means Lar Corbett will probably win it, but we can hope).

The only likely variable then is the fate of Michael Walsh. I’ve learned over the years not to look for conspiracy theories, not to see slights on Waterford where there are none – I was being sincere in the previous post when saying that Brian Corcoran was entitled to his opinion, however crass and hurtful it might be. But should Walsh, in spite of a string of stupendous performances,  be squeezed out by the need to garland the All-Ireland finalists further, one will be rather vexed.

Full list of nominations here.

Waterford 1-16 (19) Galway 0-18 (18)

galway09cover

Does adrenalin speed your reaction times up to the point where time seems to slow down? I’m not sure if it is scientifically the case, but there is plenty of anectdotal evidence to suggest this and there was one such anecdote yesterday in Thurles. As Declan Prendergast – and I’m sure it was him, not Michael Walsh – emerged from his own half with the ball, soloing towards the Galway goal with all the grace of a gazelle with a lion on its back, who should I spy tearing up on his right hand shoulder but John Mullane. It was almost as if time telescoped as Mullane moved towards the event horizon of a black hole. Prendergast batted the ball towards him, Mullane caught in his stride and barely broke it as he sent the ball in a curving arc over the bar. And all hell broke lose among the Déisigh.

I’ve been following Waterford’s efforts closely for over a decade now – hurling started in 1998, doncha know – and plenty has happened in that time. We’ve had close games, a few big wins, a few big defeats, drew some, and lost games we should have won easy. But at no point have we won a game where we were behind the 8-ball for most of it. The only occasion that comes to mind where we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory was when Paul O’Brien scored a late goal against Tipperary in the 2004 Munster semi-final. And even then we had led for most of the game only to be overtaken in the last ten minutes. Against Galway yesterday we were probably behind for 60 of the 70 minutes, and were six points down midway through the second half of a low scoring, goalless encounter. To turn that around was the stuff of fairy tales.

The day had not gotten off to the most auspicious of starts. Taking the wrong roundabout coming off the Clonmel ring road sent us on the Fethard road. It had been a while since we had taken this particular cross-country jaunt beloved of those convinced they can trim thirty seconds off the journey. No problem with going through Fethard then. It was just that it got really wacky when we found ourselves in New Birmingham. Who knew there was a place in Tipperary called New Birmingham? We certainly hadn’t, which informed us in no uncertain terms that we’d come too far. Turning around brought us in conflict with a road race where the wretched of the earth were shambling along in the middle of the highway causing us to do swerves that would have impressed John Mullane. Next time we’ll make sure we stick to the main road.

galway09ticket

We arrived in Thurles with flaming arrows poking out of our wagon and found the town eerily quiet. In retrospect, I was probably looking forward to some culchie craziness to make our English guests – my brother-in-law and Mrs d’s second cousin, although a much closer relation than that status usually implies  – come away thinking the Micks were all mad when in crowds. God forbid they might think it no different to a regular league match at Anfield or Goodison Park. Making our way into the ground you then started worrying that they’d be certain it was nothing like Anfield or Goodison Park as the decrepit nature of the venue blazed forth for them to see (although the Red part of me wonders whether the Toffee would have felt right at home, ho ho). As it happens the authorities made the sensible decision to close the Killinan End thus forcing everyone together and minimising the gaps that might have reduced the atmosphere. Allied to some relatively decent seats, certainly  by relaxed Ticketmaster criteria, I began to relax myself.

It wasn’t as if I had high expectations, and when the dust had settled my brother would confess that the main reason for going was what he saw as giving a send-off to this generation that have given us such a wild and wonderful time. With 15 minutes to go he would muse that this was going to be the last time Tony Browne would pull on a Waterford shirt. Then again, all things might well pass but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen today as Dublin failed to bring a tremendous season for them to the next level and reach an All-Ireland semi-final. Quite apart from hoping Dublin would make such a breakthrough and having those hopes dashed, there was a slightly queasy feeling at what would be said when Justin McCarthy’s new team did better than the team who had shafted him last summer – not that I begrudge Justin his happiness, but I can do without the trolling on the subject.

24 Waterford v Galway 26 July 2009 40

So having got through usual pre-match pleasantries, i.e. Amhrán na bhFiann, which I’m relieved to report didn’t leave me embarrassed at such a brazen display of nationalism in front of the post-imperial visitors , I was trying harder than usual to keep cool. This wasn’t made any easier by the presence of as big a bunch of balubas as ever to grace a sporting event sitting directly in front of us. They weren’t obnoxious, they were simply clueless about the game of hurling in general and the etiquette of match-going in a non-segregated environment (which, as expected, freaked the English folk out no end) in particular. They would applaud the ref for giving a free to Galway when he had given it to Waterford. Every Waterford wide was greeted with cheering and leaping to the feet which is fine in the last five minutes but totally OTT in the first five. One yahoo even had a Dublin beanie hat on, doubtless an expression of true love from some Jackeen brassie he had met in the boozer a few hours before. In fairness to the lads none of their clownishness was directed at those around them, but it was a source of constant irritation throughout.

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Not as big as Waterford’s first half performance though. After the initial period of fencing Galway got on top. Looking at the programme beforehand I was struck by the lack of marquee players up front. When you consider how the likes of Noel Lane, Brendan Lynskey, Martin Naughton, Anthony Cunningham, Eanna Ryan and some fella called Joe C spring to mind even twenty years on, Galway’s attack – with the exception of some fella called Joe C – didn’t strike fear into our hearts. They’ve never had a problem racking up big scores since those days, the problem has usually been lightweight back lines. And to see Waterford being horsed out of it by the Galway backs was a source of great concern. Only Stephen Molumphy seemed to be getting any change out of the ball, and Ollie Canning’s limpet imitation on John Mullane was working a treat from Galway’s perspective. Points were exchanged from frees before Galway got the first point from play, an excellent strike from Aongus Callanan after an under pressure Clinton Hennessy had sent the ball straight down his throat. It was just as well that Eoin Kelly had brought his free-taking hurley – and it should be noted what a relief it is that this aspect of Waterford’s game is no longer such a source of angst – because Galway were well on top, helped along by a point from a sideline from Joe Canning. But the double-edged nature of such a talent would be illustrated by a period midway through the half. 0-5 to 0-2 up, Galway embarked on a shocking series of efforts, two dreadful wides bookended by two sideline cuts that were brilliantly struck but drifted wide. Waterford reacted to these let-offs with a couple of frees, one of them a really soft one when John Mullane was hit by what looked to me a clean shoulder, and a great point from Kevin Moran to almost miraculously level matters.

There was no disguising Galway’s ascendancy though, however scrappy it might be. Galway began to edge clear, helped by a point from Joe Canning when he was pulled all over the shop by Declan Prendergast and resorted to kicking the ball over the bar from a long way out. The unusual nature of the point disguised just how easily he had made the space. Waterford would be grateful for a great save from Clinton Hennessy which illustrated to the newbies the value of the reaction of the crowd in gauging what had just happened – abrupt ooh = wide / 65; ripple of applause = point;  huge roar = goal. Anyone taking notes would appreciate this later on.

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Canning knocked over the 65 and another ‘point’ from him soon after would cause consternation. Shooting from an acute angle the ball looked wide from where I was – admittedly as far away as it is possible to be and still be in the New Stand – but was signalled over after some hesitation from the umpires. What followed did no credit to either Waterford or the ref. Eoin Kelly in particular can consider himself fortunate to have escaped censure as he flew off the handle. The ball may well have been wide but the display of histrionics was unnecessary and could have seen him booked, or worse. The ref though displayed a surprising level of procrastination, heading in to have a consultation with his umpires when he was surely in no position to second-guess them then allowing the point. Either chalk off the score or get on with it. Eoin Kelly could probably claim on the sly that such pressure helps when the next 50-50 decision comes his way, and it looked right suspicious when Kelly went down in a heap right under the Old Stand on the 45m line. He scored from the subsequent free and we went in at half-time grateful to be only four points down and praying that the swirling wind was a factor.

Initially it looked like it might be the case with Mullane flashing a goal effort narrowly wide, Eoin Kelly scoring one of those ridiculously precocious over-the-shoulder efforts and Kevin Moran tacking on another fine point. But this was a false dawn as Galway struck back with three quick points, one of them the result of a free when Eoin Murphy simply chopped Damien Hayes down in a blatant professional foul. Joe Canning must have pondered having a go for goal to extract maximum punishment and Galway would come to regret such caginess.

galway09action3

The post half-time blowback had now evaporated and Galway moved six points clear. The Shanahan brothers came on – Maurice and Dan respectively, which demonstrates how the pecking order has changed – and Maurice made a nuisance of himself from the word go. Not enough of a nuisance to impact the scoreboard, although he could claim frustration when his good play put Mullane in the clear only for the effort from a narrow angle to go wide. Or did it? Instinct again told me it was over and we got another display of petulance from Waterford as it was waved wide, this time slapped down with righteous indignation by Diarmuid Kirwan. It looked like heads were beginning to drop as the good work by the backs wasn’t translating into scores at the other end.  It was around this point, as alluded to previously, that maudlin thoughts about the imminent departures from the white and blue began to play around in certain skulls. Waterford managed to trim the gap to three but Galway quickly moved back to the insurance score clear, and even the English second cousin could see that Waterford were going to need a goal, something that I suggested was not going to come.

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At some point Dan Shanahan had moved in to full-forward. In a sport which consists of 14 mini-battles all over the field with the final result dependent on the collective tally of those battles a simple switch can have a spectacular impact. It’s doubtful whether Noel Hickey would be as discombobulated as Eugene McEntee was, but the brief period where Dan made a difference was explosive. First he gathered a high ball and drove the ball goalwards. Narrowly wide but 10/10 for the effort. Then it happened again, only this time he got the ball clear. I couldn’t see who it fell to or how it ended up in the net – after-the-event nod in the direction of Shane Walsh here for a fine finish –  but the reaction of the Waterford crowd on the Town End told us all we need to know. Suddenly it was a one point game. Galway had a chance which drifted hopelessly wide allowing Waterford to come back down the pitch, earn what looked like a soft free even at the time, thus allowing Kelly to level matters up right on the stroke of the 70 minutes. Extra time loomed but Prendergast and Mullane brought up that thrilling, scarcely believable denoument. There was time for Joe Canning to leap into a phone box and don the outside-the-suit underpants but his tricky effort slipped wide sparking wild celebrations – what was that about not celebrating opposition wides? – as the two minutes of injury fizzed into the bottom of the egg timer.

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The final whistle blew and Thurles reverberated to disbelieving Waterford celebrations. During his bout where Waterford supposedly boozed away the chance of beating Dublin in the League, Bernard Dunne found himself well behind on the judges scorecards as it went into 11th round. He had to land a knockout blow and he did. This was similar. We hadn’t exactly been battered by Galway and while they were well ahead it could still be won with a knockout punch. It didn’t seem at all likely though as we went into those last rounds, which was what made it so special when they landed that late flurry of blows and Galway didn’t get up off the canvas. No one in Waterford will be under the illusion that Kilkenny will be quaking in their boots after this. But each individual Championship success has value when you are from Waterford, and the manner of this one will rank it up there with the very best.

30 Waterford v Galway 26 July 2009 47

Waterford:  Clinton Hennessy, Eoin Murphy, Declan Prendergast, Noel Connors, Tony Browne, Michael Walsh, Aidan Kearney, Kevin Moran (0-2; Dan Shanahan), Shane O’Sullivan, Jamie Nagle (Maurice Shanahan), Seamus Prendergast (0-1), Stephen Molumphy, John Mullane (0-1), E Kelly (0-12, 0-11 f), Shane Casey (Shane Walsh, 1-0)

Galway: Colm Callanan, Damien Joyce, Eugene McEntee, Ollie Canning, Fergal Moore, John Lee, Eoin Lynch, Ger Farragher (0-2), Kevin Hynes, Aongus Callanan (0-2), Cyril Donnellan (Kevin Hayes), Andy Smith (0-1), Damien Hayes (0-3), Joe Canning (0-9, 0-5 f, 0-1 65), Niall Healy (Joe Gantley, 0-1)

HT: Waterford 0-7 Galway 0-11

Referee: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork)

31 Waterford v Galway 26 July 2009 48

I never thought it would come to this – All-Ireland final 2008 revisited

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The worst part of it all is that the feeling is only going to get worse. In the immediate aftermath of defeat, it wasn’t so bad. It had been obvious from a loooong way out that we were doomed, which at least had the virtue of not getting our hopes up. Had we lost having come agonisingly close, in much the manner we did against Cork in 2006, it would have been sickening for days afterwards. But you’d have gotten over it before too long. This, on the other hand, is going to reverberate for ages. Quite apart from the death-by-a-thousand-cuts that will be talking about GAA online for the forseeable future, the prospects for Waterford hurling suddenly look rather bleak. The All-Ireland, the only thing that will satisfy us after the success of the last decade, looks further away than it ever did.

Waterford 1-13 (16) Kilkenny 3-30 (39)

Nearly five months on, and I’m glad to report how wrong this piece of anguished speculation has proven to be. Not the part about the All-Ireland being further away than ever – De La Salle’s inspirational odds-overcoming to land the Munster club title has not been enough to cancel out the damage of multiple retirements and the sense that there might be rancour in the camp. Heck, you couldn’t even say with confidence that we’d beat a Cork C team should we meet them in the Championship. No, what makes a mockery of this piece of prognostication is that I can think back to that fateful day and feel a warm glow inside.

The homecoming helped. None of my siblings had the privilege of watching a team of record-breaking losers return to a cold, wet, windswept Quay and it is not likely to be a coincidence that none of them share my rosy-tinted view of the events of All-Ireland Sunday. My wife and I went along out of a feeling that we didn’t want the players to outnumber the spectators, and it was truly moving to see that many thousands of others shared the sentiment.

It has also helped that I’ve managed to avoid talking about it online. God bless wellboy over at Up The Déise for his commitment to maintaining an open forum, but the crowing of the outsiders – not many of whom, it should be noted, would be from Kilkenny – would have been insufferable. I don’t know for sure because I avoided it, as I did with AFR and the GAA Discussion Board. And for the most part I’ve stayed away. Life really is too short.

Most importantly, the day made me realise how much we take the All-Ireland final day for granted.  When you read Peter McKenna’s embittered comments about the blithe indifference of the authorities in Dublin to the sixth of a million people who pour into the city every September in comparision to the hoopla that attended to a one-off event with a few thousand visitors to Co Kildare, you can see the casual general attitude to these great events. And even in the GAA in particular, the All-Ireland can feel routine – until, having been shut out of it for all your life, you actually get to experience it.

No words can describe the tsunami of emotion that swept through Croke Park when Waterford took to the field that day. Perhaps the best reference point is that it hit the players hard, as Tony Browne admitted afterwards. But even John Mullane could appreciate that moment, the culmination of two weeks of giddiness that was enjoyable in itself. Just thinking about it is enough to send endorphins flooding into your system.

Time will dim these memories. I once thought that following Liverpool could never be anything other than pleasurable after the orgy of joy thatwas Istanbul. And should Waterford slide from sight of the hurling summit we may well curse that day as the tipping point, when we missed both our best opportunity to reach said summit and taught ourselves a lesson that it was futile to even bother. But for now I can think positively about 7 September 2008, and I’ll settle for that.

All Stars – so not many Waterford players then

The 2008 All Stars nominees are out, and there is going to by fury down Noreside that James McGarry is once again going to miss out. No such fury should attach itself to Waterford’s haul of five nominations. Clinton Hennessy’s heroics (or should that be ‘heroic’) against Tipperary was enough for him to get the nod, but it would be ludicrous for PJ Ryan to not get the statuette having conceded the sum total of zero goals during the year (for those thinking that that was the result of a stellar back line, I present to you one James McGarry). Tony Browne is Waterford’s only chance in the backs which is no chance at all – a sterling rearguard action in the All-Ireland final will not be enough for him in what is a last-chance-to-see type nomination.

Even a modest performance in September would have been sufficient for Eoin McGrath to pick up an award, one that would have doubled up as Most Surprisingly Improved Player. But he didn’t play well so he will surely miss out. This leaves Eoin Kelly and John Mullane tussling for the token All-Ireland finalists award – if you think the scale of the defeat excludes that scenario, Waterford got two awards in 1982 after an even bigger beating in the Munster final. Mullane should get it for his stunning consistency but I think Kelly will, his 2-12 haul against Offaly being one of the more memorable individual displays of the year. And he did solve the freetaking conundrum despite the doubts of certain pundits.

So one award for us, and if anyone thinks this is unfair on the All-Ireland finalists, ponder this: did any of ye feel sympathy for Limerick last year?