THEY SAY LIFE begins at 40. Tony Browne is certainly enjoying a new lease of it anyway.
The legendary wing back called time on his 23-year long inter-county career early this year at the age of 40.
Switching off from that scene and that mindset takes some readjusting, but Browne has busied himself by refocusing his efforts on training with his club Mount Sion. As it turns out, though, the three-time All-Star was just a little too focused for some tastes.
“The side of it I find hardest is when you go into training and there’s fellas on holidays and there’s only 10 or 11 players up there.
“In the first two weeks going up training I was giving out to the waterman, the manager, giving out to everyone that it wasn’t up to scratch.
“I had to be pulled aside and a phone call came to me later on to say that ‘this is the way it is at club level’. I was completely in a different bubble and I had to readjust. I had to let go but I’m still moaning to get it right at that level.”
As the evenings have stretched, so too has his patience. Browne afforded himself a night to remind himself how the sessions go in the big leagues. We assumed he’s joking when he talks about making a comeback next year, but watching a group he was in the thick of for so long only whetted his appetite again.
“I sat up there like everyone else who had come in to watch a training session or a match. I remember looking at them when they were doing a few drills and saying to myself, ‘Jesus, would I be able for that?’ Or, ‘would I be in the top three or five running around?’
“They were doing laps at about three-quarter pace around the goals and I was wondering if I’d be able for it. It’s still there in me. It was strange watching on but I enjoyed it.”
‘The body could do it’
It’s always slightly less painful when you have left on your own terms. While Browne took his age and physical shape into consideration when mulling over whether to hang up his inter-county jersey, he would still back himself to hold his own.
“I’d be telling you a lie if I said I didn’t think I could. The body could do it if I wanted to which is strange to say, I could have done it.
“It was probably the time in Waterford to start changing the team and give others an opportunity. I know if I went back in, I’m the type that wouldn’t have been happy sitting on the bench. Fair enough, making a contribution, I was very committed and I wouldn’t like to give up the jersey easy, but I felt it was time for others.”
That time hasn’t come quite yet for Mount Sion’s young up-and-comers. Browne offers an early hint that he was ‘happy’ with how the early rounds of the Waterford club Championship went. But his grin grows wider when he gets into specifics; playing in attack, pointing frees, happy days indeed.
“I [normally] play centre back for the club, then in the first couple of rounds of the Championship I’ve been playing in the forward line. So I’m hitting the frees and the whole lot in the forward line.
“It’s a great change like, because throw a few balls over the bar there and you’re a headline in the newspaper rather than following fellas around the field. Maybe, looking back on it now, I should have spent more time in the forwards than the backs.”
This is Tony Browne 2.0; a free-taking playmaker rather a a stalwart in defence? He’s asked if he would like to hit another decent age milestone, 45, before finally giving up the game. Browne winces like an athlete offered a slice of cake. It’s tempting, but he has to be pragmatic.
“It’s like any older person now. You take it day by day as it comes. I wouldn’t rule it out to tell you the truth,” he says laughing.
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“Some part of me was hoping after the first two rounds of the Championship that Derek McGrath might pick up the phone and ring me or whatever. That’s the side of it you find hard to let go in the first two or three weeks when you retire.
He’ll miss hurling when he eventually stops it altogether. But hopefully that day is still a way down the tracks after he eased the workload by letting Waterford go on without him.
“There’s no doubt, I’d be telling a lie if I said I didn’t miss it. – But I’m comfortable in the sense that I know I took it to the limit on where I could bring it. I know when I look in the mirror… some players can look back and say they retired too early, and I’d hate to be looking into the mirror saying I could have gone on for another year or two, so I’m comfortable. I wanted to play away with the club as well so that’s what I’m at.”
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His age was never really a factor for Browne, he’s been asking his body whether it’s fit enough for another year of hurling for a decade and he keeps coming up with the answers.
“When you’re playing and at  it didn’t really figure for me. I just wanted to do what I was training to do for the last 22 years. I still had a job to do, I still had training to do in order to get into the team.
“It’s only when you retire and look back ant it then and you say it was a decent enough achievement. I certainly wasn’t there just to break records by playing until I was 40 or 41, The ultimate was to win trophies and medals.
“That’s what it was all about.”