Limerick's Browne savours glory after 'difficult' journey
In the maelstrom of a first Munster hurling title for 17 years, it's easy to forget that just three years ago Limerick hurling was bogged down in a rift between management and the majority of established players that tore the county apart.
Justin McCarthy's culling of the 2009 squad – 12 players were released – not long after their heavy All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Tipperary was received badly, not for the personnel removed but the manner of it.
It led to some of their biggest names removing themselves from the squad and a lost year being punched in as those who remained drifted aimlessly through 2010.
Paul Browne had debuted in 2009 and was substituted in that fateful defeat to Tipperary, but with the exodus in full swing he decided to remain, conscious that he might not get a chance to play with Limerick again.
David Breen also stayed on and with Graeme Mulcahy and Nicky Quaid, who McCarthy drafted in that year, they were the quartet who endured the darkest hour before the dawn.
"It was my first year on the panel and I just said I'd hold around. If I didn't, I thought I mightn't get the chance again," Browne recalled a little uneasily at yesterday's official launch of the All-Ireland hurling championships in Galway's Loughgeorge headquarters.
"It has been a long journey. I'm not going to go into it. It was a difficult time. There were a few of us there that stuck around. It was difficult for either side. It wasn't a nice time to be hurling but we're over it now," said the 23-year-old Bruff man.
"We got a nice clipping off Tipperary in a semi-final in Croke Park. A few of that team are still around as well. My first year was 2009. It was a hard pill to swallow. We went into that semi-final and people thought we'd run them close.
"We'd got a nice run through the qualifiers. But we're not going to make the same mistake this time, we're looking solely at the semi-final and that's what we're focused on."
Browne has never experienced anything other than a Cork man in charge of a Limerick hurling team, but what separates John Allen, in his estimation, is his great motivational ability.
"He has done it before and he knows what it's all about. He's a calm man and there could be chaos going on all around him, he never changes. He's so calm, he's so well spoken and so softly spoken.
"He's an excellent motivator. You never really think about it until Donal Og Cusack said what a good psychological motivator he was on 'The Sunday Game'. He does it so well, so astutely and he doesn't give anything away.
"He still has a great way of getting you in the right frame of mind for what's coming up."
Browne said the legacy of what last Sunday could create was important but refocusing on another five-week break was their greatest immediate challenge.
"On Sunday, in the first half, we were kind of rusty and the five-week gaps are hard to manage. Those greens versus whites games we do are hugely important – we have to get them as competitive and intense as we can.
"Being back training so soon has us back down to earth and the club championship is a break on the way. We might get a week off up to that and it's good to get away and get a bit of freshness.
"We're away for a few days and the next thing you know you haven't seen lads for a week or so and it brings a bit of freshness and new life."
Browne, who has developed a significant midfield partnership with Donal O'Grady, admits that the joy of success was enhanced by the knowledge that with a couple of minutes remaining they knew that they weren't going to be caught.
"I remember looking over at Gavin (O'Mahony) and we both knew that it was game over. It was when we got six, seven points ahead that we knew we had it in the bag and they wouldn't catch us.
"I was laughing. We looked over and saw a little kid running out onto the pitch and his father caught him by the collar. He yanked him out of there fairly lively. It's the stuff dreams are made of, the crowd swallowing you up and it was only afterwards I saw how many people were on the pitch. The whole place was covered."