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'I asked him to lift the cup with me. I don't know why but I'm delighted I did' - Limerick's defensive star

Paul Browne on his club-mate who has shone again in defence for Limerick this season.

Seán Finn and Paul Browne lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2018.
Seán Finn and Paul Browne lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2018.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Updated Dec 12th 2020, 12:00 PM

LAST MONDAY NIGHT the Bruff U9 hurlers had a surprise visitor.

They would have been thrilled to see their local hero at any stage of the year, the hurling emblem they can all hope to emulate, but at this time there was a touch of the Christmas miracle for them in getting to meet Seán Finn.

It’s a more hectic mid December period than normal. All-Ireland final week might seem like a good time to fly under the radar but Limerick’s defensive anchor is grounded enough and in tune with home to be happy to show a face.

Drop in a few hurleys, have a few words with the youngsters and guide them through a few drills.

“The look of joy on the young fellas faces was just unreal,” says Paul Browne.

“He called in and did a bit of a session with them. He’s just a huge source of pride for the parish.”

Browne is from the same neck of the woods in south Limerick and up until last November was sharing a county dressing-room with Finn as well.

After 11 seasons the midfielder felt it was time to go. Browne had ploughed for Limerick when the hurling land was often barren yet he reaped his harvest in the end. The 2013 Munster win was cherished and if his cruciate snapping in the middle of 2018 was a grave setback, the ultimate All-Ireland breakthrough that year was savoured.

By then Finn had swelled the Bruff representation further. Collectively he has been part of a golden era in Limerick. Two medals apiece in Munster minor, U21 and senior along with a pair of National Leagues and All-Ireland U21 accolades.

The only blemish is from the All-Ireland minor days, losing a final to Kilkenny in 2014. But the senior win two years ago was more than a compensation and another tomorrow would embellish his record further.

Individually though is where Finn’s prowess has really emerged. Is he the best defender in hurling right now? Certainly he has a strong claim for those closest to goal, the enforcers in the full-back line.

He’s unbackable to win an All-Star this year, that would be his third in a row and no other hurler in the country is currently in the frame for that. Joe McKenna, Pat Hartigan and Gary Kirby are the only previous Limerick hurlers to have achieved three on the bounce.

“The skill levels of forwards seem to be going through the roof,” says Browne.
“To be that consistent marking these fellas, the way the game is played currently in the modern times is just incredible. He’s just so consistent. I rarely remember a time he had a bad training session even.

“It was always a huge release playing club hurling and knowing he’s back there, you just know very rarely something is going to go wrong. It’s like having an extra defender at club level.

“He’s a huge ability ability to read the game, come out with dirty ball and do the right things on the ball. He’s huge talent as a hurler, he’d be throwing balls over the bar for fun sometimes in club games at centre-back.”

Browne saw all this coming a long way off. His brother was in the same underage teams as Finn, he monitored their progress up through the ranks.

“The first time he really burst on the scene it was on the U16 Limerick team that won the All-Ireland. He was a small lad when he was younger, he grew a bit but nearly as wide as he grew tall.

“When you were looking back down along watching him play underage games, you knew he was really good. When he was at the 16s level and he hit the minors, it was only a matter of time before he was going to be called in. There was no doubt in my mind.”

If there is a turning point in Finn’s hurling story, then it can be pinned down as an afternoon in February 2016. Fresh from being drafted into the Limerick senior squad by TJ Ryan, he came off in a Fitzgibbon Cup for UL. The scans revealed a torn cruciate, a familiar setback in his family as his twin sister Sarah suffered the same injury at the time playing camogie.

But rather than derailing Seán’s journey, it proved a timely opportunity to press pause.

“He went away travelling with a lad from Bruff, Kevin Bulfin,” says Browne.

“They went to Thailand. He would tell you himself that it took nearly 12, 13 months to come back from his cruciate. He wasn’t rushing it, he took a complete break from it. The way it fell he was going to miss the whole year anyway, he did it in February, so he was out for that year then. When he came back from travelling, he’d shed a load of weight and his upper body was just gone huge. He was a different fella.”

He emerged in 2017 as a senior debutant for Limerick and hasn’t relinquished that number two jersey since.

The importance has become more pronounced this year in solidifying the Limerick rearguard with his compatriots Richie English and Mike Casey both hit with cruciate injuries.
Four minutes into the Munster final, Browne watched from home as Finn was taken for a point by Dessie Hutchinson after a delightful flick to buy some space.

“As soon as I saw Dessie flick it over his head for the first ball, I thought he wasn’t going to get too much after that. That’s the last thing you’d want to be doing to Seanie Finn now.

“It was funny during the summer there with one of the lads in Bruff, Ryan Glynn is his name, he’s on the Limerick football panel. We were training, Ryan actually threw the ball over Seanie’s head very similar to that. The whole session stopped for about 30 seconds, fellas laughing.

“He threw up on the Whats App group then after the Munster final, ‘How did Dessie Hutchinson get a video of Bruff training from the summer?’

“So it was a good bit of craic.”

“At club level we’d have a good bond, trying to drive it on and stuff. He’d buzz you after matches and stuff. He rang me there last Monday or Tuesday evening just to chat about the game, what I thought of it, how Waterford might set up, fellas he’d be marking and stuff like that. We’d be good friends.

“On top of it all he’s probably the nicest fella you’ll ever meet, the most genuine, down to earth fella. Sometimes when you’re at that level, you might rub some fella up the wrong way or fellas think you’ve a big head, but I actually don’t know any person who doesn’t like Seanie. He’s super craic, after club games going for a few drinks, everyone would gravitate towards him.”

Limerick’s winning ways have been maintained as they build up to the biggest December weekend in the county’s hurling history. Browne may not be in the senior ranks but he is immersed in it all the same.

In the last year he’s become GDO for the northside of Limerick city and also head hurling coach of the Limerick Academy, a role which encompasses a variety of teams from U14 to U20 teams.

Today he will be hurley carrier for the minors – Finn’s younger brother Patrick is involved – in Semple Stadium at one o’clock and then race to the Gaelic Grounds as coach to the U20 team at half four. It will be undoubtedly strange not to be heading to Croke Park tomorrow and while watching on TV is a nerve-shredding experience for someone who was recently in the inner sanctum of Limerick hurling, it’s been a nice family routine to take in winter games on Sunday afternoons.

Limerick’s return to the All-Ireland final reawakens memories of that joyous day in 2018.

“We were going up the steps and he just happened to be a small bit in front of me,” recalls Browne.

“When it was coming up to my turn, I asked him to lift the cup with me. I don’t know why but I’m delighted I did. There’s no photo of me actually lifting it on the Hogan Stand by myself, it’s just myself and Seanie. I forgot to throw it up myself after on my own. The club in winter of 2018 gave us a nice black and white photo of it, that was the photo that went up around Bruff. I’d be hugely proud of being from Bruff and proud of the club and stuff. The club would mean an awful lot to me and it was just great to have a club man to share it.”

Finn’s father Brian played for the Limerick seniors back in the ‘90s, a time which haunted the county’s hurling fortunes for a long time.

“I remember talking to Brian after the ’18 All-Ireland,” says Browne.

“Galway started coming back and he got very bad up in the stand he was saying. He was getting flashbacks of ’94, he said to me. He said, ‘Oh no, here we go again, I can’t do this.

“He was hugely relieved and delighted when Seanie got over the line and won it.”

Two years on and he’s back closing in on glory, more crucial to the Limerick cause than ever before.

About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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