Tuesday 10 December 2019

Browne backs Waterford young guns to deliver on potential

Tony Browne admits he is missing life in the Waterford dressing-room after his retirement from hurling. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Tony Browne admits he is missing life in the Waterford dressing-room after his retirement from hurling. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

There are plenty of similarities between Waterford and Wexford hurling at the moment, and Saturday's clash of the south-east neighbours provides a golden opportunity for both to take another significant step forward in their revival.

Wexford took the biggest scalp of the summer with their dramatic replay victory over Clare last weekend, and while Waterford have not scaled those heights, they are embracing a new era under Derek McGrath.

With most of the old guard who helped the Deise win four Munster SHC titles in nine years now retired, the manager has had little option but to turn to the county's considerable well of underage talent.

The most recognisable face missing from the Waterford dressing-room this year is that of Tony Browne, who decided not to return to the inter-county stage at the start of the year.

Despite turning 41 on the first of this month, the decision to walk away wasn't easy. After an incredible 23 years at the highest level of the game, the Mount Sion legend still reckoned he could do some sort of job.

"I'd be telling a lie if I said I didn't miss it. The body could do it if I wanted to, which is strange to say – I could have done it," Browne reflected.

"It was probably the time in Waterford to start changing the team and giving others an opportunity. If I went back in, I'm the type that wouldn't have been happy sitting on the bench.

"I was very committed and I wouldn't like to give up the jersey easy, but I felt it was time for others."

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When Browne watched a Waterford training session last week, he found himself wondering how his own times would compare to the drills that the players were going through.

But the three-time All Star is now comfortable with his decision and it is perhaps made that bit easier by the direction Waterford hurling is taking.

"I'm comfortable in the sense that I know I took it to the limit of where I could bring it. Some part of me was hoping after the first two rounds of the club championship that Derek McGrath might pick up the phone and ring me!

"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 with my decision."

It will be almost six weeks since Waterford's last competitive game by the time the ball is thrown in at Nowlan Park on Saturday, but Browne is adamant that the break will have stood to them.

Wexford, by contrast, have played two games that needed extra-time against Clare, while their U-21 players have also been very busy.

"I went in just to have a look at them (Waterford) training and I have to say that I was very impressed with them. They looked very sharp," said Browne.

With an All-Ireland quarter-final place up for grabs, games don't come much bigger than this derby. Browne insists both desperately need a win to have something to show for their recent progress.

"Let's be honest, it's a huge opportunity for both managers and counties and it's a scenario where either won't really fear each other.

"It'll show where they are in their transition. There's not going to be much in it. Liam Dunne has done an unbelievable job because in the last couple of years they've been in a dark place.

"Wexford are like Waterford in the sense that there is a lot of talent coming through and it's a huge opportunity for both to get to a quarter-final.

"Not just for the players involved now, but it's a massive opportunity in the process for the next couple of years," he added.

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