‘It’s tricky doing my exams with two fingers tied together’
Lock itching to return after hand laceration stalled his progress on the field and at college
The Christmas exams began at NUI Galway this week, and along with a few Connacht team-mates Andrew Browne is looking to back up his form on the pitch in college.
It was a cruel blow when he picked up a sickening hand injury at the end of another starring performance against Brive last month, and what looked like a routine setback turned into altogether different proposition.
It required stitches, and the risk of infection kept him out of the Pro12 clashes with Munster and Cardiff. He is back raring to go now, but with the cut on his hand it makes essay-style geography questions even more difficult.
Along with colleagues Eoghan Masterson, Danny Qualter and Conor Finn, the 28-year-old Renmore native will hope the momentum Connacht have built up at the Sportsground can translate to the pen and paper.
“I got the injury to my right hand and it’s a bit of nuisance because I have exams and I am not exactly writing the best at the moment with two of my fingers tied together,” he says,
“I am in my final year Arts, so I have a good bit of work to do in that. It keeps me ticking along. It is good to keep the brain working outside of rugby.
“I will do Economics next year, I split my years. NUI Galway are quite good with us in that respect. They show us a lot of support. It has been a long process but hopefully I will have the degree at the end of it.”
John Muldoon picked up all of the recognition for his 200th Pro12 appearance last week, but he is not the only Galwegian who has upped it another level this term.
Browne also came through the ranks at Connacht, and although he is his ninth season playing with the senior side, he is still relatively young.
As with a lot of his team-mates an Emerging Ireland call-up during the summer was a massive boost and he hasn’t look back since.
“I didn’t expect to get the call to travel with the Emerging Ireland team,” he says. “I was away on holidays in Thailand with a few of the lads from here for a week. It was good craic, but it was a bit of a shock getting back into training and playing matches.
“But it was straight into the squad then. I had a couple of days to prepare and then we were up to Dublin. I wasn’t expecting the call, but it was a good tournament in the end. I got some valuable game-time which I needed on the back of last season.”
And after sending their biggest ever representation to Georgia for the Tbilisi Cup, the Connacht stars flourished as Emerging Ireland took the crown with three comprehensive victories.
When that contingent returned for pre-season, things had been ramped up at the Sportsground. And when the season kicked off it was quickly noticeable that Connacht had changed for the better in 2015-16.
Browne has played seven games this term, to make it 132 Connacht appearances – with one try. But the Galwegians clubman has, like the rest of his team, become a lot more consistent. And the engine room in the Connacht pack has been the foundation of many of their victories.
“Lads knew they had to step up with the absence of Swifty (Michael Swift) this year. Aly (Muldowney) has done a great job, and there is plenty of competition for the second-row as a whole.
“We all we have to perform, not just on the pitch but in training every day. If you are not doing your job, there is someone that can come in there and fill your role quite adequately.
“The pressure is on, but it is a good pressure – it just makes you perform better.”
Connacht lost forwards coach Dan MacFarland to reigning Pro12 champions Glasgow Warriors at the start of the season. And although Browne misses a man who had a big influence on his career, he says Jimmy Duffy is definitely the right successor.
“Jimmy has been brilliant so far. I have worked with Jimmy and Dan throughout my career here. But Jimmy was my first Connacht coach at youth level,” says Browne.
“He has been excellent with us so far. He is really all for player power, and letting you take responsibility, facilitating that side of things, and he has been excellent with the lads since he came in.”
Connacht fell to just their second defeat of the season last weekend at Cardiff Arms Park, and they remain a clear second in the Pro12 thanks to the bonus point they fought for in defeat.
But attention turns to Europe this weekend, and the first of back-to-back clashes with Newcastle, that are likely to have a huge bearing on how Pool 1 pans out after Christmas.
Browne picked up his hand injury in Connacht’s last Challenge Cup game, their 21-17 victory in Galway on November 21. He has not played since, and is itching to get going again.
“The injury halted a bit of momentum I had at the time. I can’t expect to walk right back into that team because there are too many fellas, especially in the second-row, playing really well,” he says.
“I just have to get back fit, perform in training, and if I do get a chance I have to take that again and put my hand up for inclusion in the game-day squads.
“That is my main focus at the moment, so hopefully that will come true.”