Tony Browne returning to purge painful memories

By Colm Keys

Wednesday February 04 2009

In the signature words of Barack Obama’s recent US presidential inauguration speech, Tony Browne intends 2009 to be a year in which he will "pick himself up and dust himself off" after last September’s harrowing All-Ireland final defeat to Kilkenny.

Browne has committed himself to another season with Waterford and intends being back on the training field "within the next two weeks".

But the Deise veteran admits it was a very close call as to whether he would go back at all after the devastating nature of their loss to Kilkenny four months ago.

In his own mind, Browne (right) had reassured himself that 2008, regardless of what it brought, would be his last year in a Waterford shirt.

"To be honest I hadn’t intended going back at all this year. I was very hesitant about it. I saw 2008 as my last year hurling at this level as I wanted to give something more back to my club. And for a long time I was sure that I would stick to that," he reflected. "But I just couldn’t walk away on that note. I just couldn’t. We were all devastated by the All-Ireland final. It was a terrible experience.

"It was not the point that I would want to end my inter-county hurling career on," he stated.

Waterford resume competitive action on Sunday against Tipperary in their opening league match in Walsh Park — a repeat of last year’s All-Ireland semi-final showdown that propelled them to a first final in
45 years and triggered enormous hype that, ultimately, they didn’t deal with well.

Browne is now inter-county hurling’s longest servant, having made his debut back in 1993, and apart from the certainty that he is returning to training he is unsure about what the season will hold for him and Waterford.

"I’m looking forward to returning. The reports from what they have done already are very good. There are a lot of new players in training which had to be the case.

"What I’ll be able for I can’t be sure. I’m getting on. I appreciate that. And I haven’t done a lot in the off-season. But I look after myself well. Normally over the last couple of seasons I’d always hold back before resuming but I can’t afford to be away too long if I am going to play a part in 2009. I’ll have to see what way the body is."


For Waterford there can be no guarantees in the months ahead, admits Browne. "Ideally we’d like to get back and beat Limerick and get to a Munster final, have a good Munster campaign. Anything else would be a bonus, for me anyway, and would be a nice way to finally call it a day.

"In fairness to Davy Fitzgerald he has come back for another season and that was a factor in my decision to stay on. He deserves a full season at it. But there were other factors too. Last September wasn’t a true reflection of the team we were.

"We had no game a few weeks later to address it, to try and put it right and that was frustrating. It hung over us for a long time."

Other long-serving panellists Paul Flynn and Dave Bennett announced their retirements, with Bennett particularly critical of the approach to Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final that saw an attempt to intimidate some of their players before the throw-in, and in the opening minutes, fail miserably.

Browne accepts there are plenty of aspects that Waterford could look back on and say they did right or wrong but the most important thing now for them is resetting their focus.

"There’s no doubt about the strength of Kilkenny in hurling at present.
You see some of their players out there in Walsh Cup games as hungry as ever. Every team has to match that attitude first," he conceded.

Shaking off the psychological shackles from last September isn’t something that can happen instantly and a victory over Liam Sheedy’s Tipperary is the obvious point where they might start feeling good about themselves.

"There’s a lot to be positive about for the future of Waterford hurling.
We have a club team in an All-Ireland semi-final and some good 18- and 19-year-olds that are now making the panel," revealed the 1998 Hurler of the Year.

If training goes well, Browne hopes to figure at some stage in the league, with a March 22 game against Dublin as a possible date to return.

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