| 9.1°C Dublin

'It's taking a while to adjust' - Kenny Browne on life after football and the bittersweet end to a glittering career

Close

Kenny Browne, pictured in his final season, during the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division match between Waterford and Shamrock Rovers at the RSC. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Kenny Browne, pictured in his final season, during the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division match between Waterford and Shamrock Rovers at the RSC. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Kenny Browne, pictured in his final season, during the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division match between Waterford and Shamrock Rovers at the RSC. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Kenny Browne is facing into 2020 on unfamiliar ground.

Having played professionally in the League of Ireland for the past 16 years, he's now looking for a job. A proper job, as an older generation might offer.

There's no pre-season training, no monitoring everything that passes his lips, it is, what he describes as "an adjustment."

A native of Waterford, Brown spent 16 of his 33 years travelling the dual carriageways and by-roads of Ireland with Waterford United (twice), Waterford FC, St Patrick's Athletic, Cork City and Sporting Fingal.

Close

Kenny Browne of Waterford in action against Jack Byrne of Shamrock Rovers during the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division match in February 2019

Kenny Browne of Waterford in action against Jack Byrne of Shamrock Rovers during the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division match in February 2019

SPORTSFILE

There's been plenty of silverware along the way too.

If every League of Ireland footballer boasted a Premier Division title, two FAI Cups, two League Cups and a First Division winner's medal when the boots were finally suspended on the peg, they could look back with a sense of satisfaction.

But one thing niggles. The way it ended.

There are very few regrets with Kenny Browne, but his career didn't end well - a lack of contact from Waterford FC still rankles.

Few players get the rousing reception in front of a vocal and supportive home crowd at the end of their time, must shuffle off into the shadows.

Some have coaching jobs lined up before they make the call.

Others, like Browne, just make the decision and see what happens next. Playing is no more. Not even at junior level. His hunger for the game is sated by a few games of five-a-side with his mates back in Waterford.

"It's been a change not playing football anymore. It's been an adjustment, put it that way," says Browne.

"It was first January in 16 years where I'm not running so there's pros and cons to that.

"It's taking a while to adjust. I'm still looking for full-time work. Once I get tied down, I feel like I'm at a loose end."

Close

Philip Lowry, Derry City, in action against Kenny Browne, St Patrick's Athletic in the 2014 FAI Ford Cup final at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Pat Murphy/Sportsfile

Philip Lowry, Derry City, in action against Kenny Browne, St Patrick's Athletic in the 2014 FAI Ford Cup final at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Pat Murphy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Despite an injury-blighted 2019 with Waterford FC, Browne felt he "still had another year" in him.

"I got a really rare injury last year, it was early in the season, only about five games in. I tore my calf, so I went to see a specialist in Cork," he reveals.

"The injury I picked up was the exact same one that retired Jerry Flannery. It was a carbon copy of his injury. So I was out for three months, and when I came back, the first day I came back, I done it again."

The signs were onimous.

"So I went down to see the specialist in Cork, Eanna Falvey, who is exceptional. And he said to me, 'if it goes again, you have to retire'," he said.

"It's kind of like three strikes and you're out.

"So when I heard that, you're not going to have too long left of this. I obviously thought I had definitely another year left, so I came back and did okay. I was only playing at about 50 per cent if I'm honest.

"And then the season ended."

And that's when the life of a League of Ireland player can sometimes get complicated.

"The way Waterford was, it was caught up in limbo, was the owner (Lee Power) going to stay? What the budget was going to be?" he says.

Browne believes the uncertainty in the Waterford FC boardroom reverberated to the first team squad, and players sought pastures new.

Close

Daryl Horgan of Dundalk in action against Kenny Browne of Cork City during the Irish Daily Mail FAI Cup final at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Daryl Horgan of Dundalk in action against Kenny Browne of Cork City during the Irish Daily Mail FAI Cup final at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

"The likes of Rory Feely went back to St Pat's, Zac Elbouzedi went to Lincoln, and all the better players got picked up," he said.

A phone call from the Blues on his own future plans wasn't forthcoming either.

"I thought, 'well I'm 33, I've been injured' and I didn't think they were going to offer my anything anyway. And I didn't hear anything from the club," he said.

"I made it known locally that I wasn't going back and a few people said 'you should stay' but I really didn't get the option.

"So that was it. The last time I spoke to them would probably have been the last week of the season. I didn't hear anything from anyone."

The lack of a new deal and the injury forced his hand.

"I wouldn't say that was the only reason I retired. I knew I was on borrowed time. I couldn't guarantee that I would play a full season. I could have been signed a week and the injury could have blown up," he insists.

"It was a combination of factors. The injury, and the fact that I didn't have a good year. I didn't enjoy it. There was a lot of time spent in the gym on my own while the lads were training.

"I was never injured in my career before so it was kind of a new thing for me. I was adjusting to that and then the club being in limbo.

"If someone said to me 'get yourself right in pre-season, or over the Christmas, I probably would have said 'Oh Christ, do you know what? I'll give it one more year. If it doesn't work out it doesn't work out.'"

"But then did I want to drop down to the First Division? No. Did I want to go travelling up and down the country? No. That was my decision. I thought I maybe had another year."

The confusion surrounding Waterford FC ended last December when Lee Power announced his decision to continue to back club.

By then, Browne had made up his mind and subsequent offers from junior clubs in Waterford didn't appeal to him.

"A few junior clubs in Waterford have been on to me. But without being arrogant, I said 'look lads, I don't want to let you down. The way it works in Waterford is you normally play at 11 o'clock on a Sunday morning," he said.

"So I couldn't imagine myself working from Monday to Friday, and then giving up my Saturday night to play a junior game on a Sunday. It's just the way I feel. I just don't want to let people down.

"I couldn't see myself playing and enjoying it. I just play a few games of five-a-side with my mates and that suits me at the moment."

Issues with the lack of contact from the Blues aside, Browne looks back with pride in his contribution to the domestic game.

"I was lucky enough. There's lots of lads played in Waterford and stayed in Waterford and didn't win anything. For me it was important to get up to Dublin and play. That's where I needed to go," he said.

"I started off with Waterford back in 2004, Alan Reynolds was the manager and we had a really good side in the Premier Division. But I was sent out on loan to Kilkenny. I needed to go on loan. At the time I didn't think I did, but looking back, I did.

"I was only 17 when I started in the League. But then Waterford struggled, I think it was a money problem, but it came down to a really local-based team.

"We were relegated, but it suited me because I got to play games."

Browne always knew when the time was right to move on, and Waterford United were no different, and a move to Dublin, with Sporting Fingal, was his next destination.

"I felt the time was right to go in 2010 and I went to Sporting Fingal where I got to play with some really good players," he said.

"Glenn Crowe, Alan Kirby, Ronan Finn, Shaun Williams. When I went to play with them I felt that this is the level I should be playing at.

"If I didn't take the plunge that year, I probably would have stayed in Waterford."

Browne felt the sharp end of the League of Ireland's financial struggles when Sporting Fingal folded in early 2011.

Previously in a position of strength with some of the country's top talent on board, Gerry Gannon - the club's main benefactor - departed his role as chairman of the club in December 2010 and the writing was on the wall.

Browne, broken but unbowed, returned to familiar territory.

"I came back to Waterford after Fingal went bust," he said.

"Then I had a disastrous year in the First Division.

"I thought we'd win the First Division easy, but it was a disaster. So thank God Liam Buckley got the St Pat's job."

A season of despair at Waterford, paved the way for Buckley to rescue Browne and bring him back to Dublin with St Patrick's Athletic.

"I trained with the PFAI two or three times and Trevor Croly was coaching. I didn't know at the time, but he was going in with Liam as number two at Pat's. He seen me and rang Liam. Liam rang me and asked me to come up. That saved my career," he insists.

Browne built up a formidable partnership in the heart of the Saints' defence with Conor Kenna, claiming the Premier Division title in 2013.

He might have been a Shamrock Rovers player, were it not for a twist of fate in the 2012 FAI Cup final.

"Me and Conor complemented each other. I was a ball-playing centre-half and Conor was an unbelievable talker and organiser," he says.

"I just went out and played, whereas Conor was miles ahead and he'd see things happening on the pitch that I wouldn't notice. He was brilliant."

In his first season in Inchicore, St Pat's faced Derry City in the FAI Cup final - a competition the Saints hadn't won in 51 years. The pressure was immense. But Browne had unofficially agreed to sign for Shamrock Rovers.

More heartbreak befell the club as Derry prevailed 3-2 after extra-time. Browne blamed himself for the winning goal and duly turned his back on a move to Rovers.

"I was at fault for the winning goal. I always blame myself anyway. A lot of people say it wasn't my fault," he reveals.

"I was going to sign for Shamrock Rovers that year, and I made that mistake in the Cup final and I said 'I can't leave on that basis.'
"I'd promised fellahs I'd sign. But I done a u-turn."

Browne stayed with St Pat's and got his redemption in the FAI Cup two years later, beating old adversaries Derry in the final.

"That meant so much to me, being at fault for the winning goal in 2012," he said.

"That was the highlight of my career. People say winning the League is, but personally, that meant a little bit more because of 2012.

"It was 53 years since the club won it. I saw grown men crying. Brian Kerr was crying. It's very seldom you see that.

"It meant a lot to so many people. For me to be a part of that was mindblowing. It was very humbling.

"It took me about three years to watch that mistake in 2012. I felt that I should have cleared the ball. I should have got more on it and headed it clear but it flicked off the top of my head and they scored.

"I remember going into the final in 2014. Myself and Greg (Bolger) were rooming together, we said if we don't win this now we'll never win it.

"The final itself, was brutal. We scored a jammy first goal, the ball just rolled in, and obviously we scored with that last kick of the game, but we didn't care.

"It was massive for me. It felt like I made amends and I was grateful I got the chance."

Browne felt it was time to leave Inchicore in 2016. Especially as his wingman Kenna had already departed for Tallaght.

"We weren't playing well. We lost a few players, Conor Kenna had already gone to Rovers. We were in a transition. I couldn't see us turning it around and hitting those highs again," he says.

"There was no dramatic change within the club, but I felt it was the right time to go. I needed a new challenge."

With Premier Division, FAI Cup and two League Cup winners' medals during his time at St Pat's, Browne sought pastures new and moved to Cork City in 2016, linking up once again with his his good friend at Pats, Greg Bolger.

The Rebels, under John Caulfield, were the next to attempt to lay a glove on Dundalk, with relative success. The training came as a shock to Browne's system.

"When I went to Cork, I seen it first-hand down there. They trained hard down there. It's only when I look at pictures of me playing with Cork and looking at me now, I think f***ing hell, there's some difference!" he laughs.

"Cork had finished runners-up to Dundalk and wanted to overtake them. I remember the season finished in October and we were running in November on a track.

"Straight away, November, December, January, February. I remember saying 'what have I done here?'

"But that year was the fittest I probably ever way. Just through sheer hard work. We were doing triple sessions. On the pitch, running, gym work, boxing.

"In fairness to Cork, they did that because they had to in order to bridge the gap to Dundalk.

"We won the FAI Cup when I was there, and they won the double the year after I left, so they did bridge that gap."

After a season on Leeside, Browne answered the call of his hometown club, now rebranded Waterford FC under the ownership of former Ireland international Power.

He was prepared to rip up his Cork contract and drop down a division for the move.

"A lot of people thought I was crazy to move because I had another year on my contract with Cork," he says.

"When I won the Cup with Cork, I saw lads like Alan Bennett and Mark McNulty, who are Cork through and through, and they were in tears. It meant so much to them.

"Maybe because I had won the Cup already with Pat's, it just didn't mean that much to me as it did to the lads. It was still a big occasion for me. But I thought to myself, I could imagine if that was Waterford, I would feel like that.

"If I had one chance to do that with Waterford. I didn't think the move would happen.

"Alan Reynolds was down with Cork as a coach and he took the Waterford job and he rang me.

"But I told him I was flying with Cork, but then I saw a few of the players they signed and thought I could it going somewhere.

"There was no reason why we shouldn't win the First Division. If we could get promoted and strengthen again I could see us breaking into the top four."

Browne came home to Waterford in 2017 and did exactly that. In their first season back in the Premier Division, the revived Blues finished fourth and secured a Europa League spot.

The reality of First Division football hit Browne like a hammer blow in his first League game back at Waterford.

"In the first game, the floodlights failed in Athlone and they beat us in an absolute bog, and I remember coming home on the bus and I was nearly in tears thinking 'what have I done?'.

"I've left a potential League-winning team and European football. Luckily enough we found our feet and won the First Division comfortably enough.

"The next year we got Europe, and that's well documented. But we brought in some great players.

"I felt we weren't far off the top. I thought the idea would have been to strengthen again.

"For some reason after that season, we lost a lot of players and the budget changed."

And, with next to zero fanfare apart from a few well wishes in reply to a tweet last month, Kenny Browne had finished with football.

The next chapter of his footballing life remains, for now, a blank page.

Online Editors