We can talk about our superstars of other sports, we can even talk about our superstars of this sport with all their All-Ireland medals, but this guy is as fine a role model as we’ve ever seen in the game.
He turned 39 on July 1. This is his 22nd year at this level, his 21st championship season and Tony still hasn’t got the All-Ireland medal at senior level that he and so many other Waterford players deserve to go with the All-Ireland U21 medals he won in 1992 and 1994. But, for me, this guy is a true legend of the game.
The way he plays the game, there isn’t a foul blow in him. A superb stickman, he minds himself and is as fit now as ever he was, still gliding across the ground. The way he reads a game, he is always in the right position and the way he can come up with a big score for Waterford. If for no other reason than to see Tony Browne playing, you should head for Cork tomorrow.
If you’ve got a young fella especially, bring him along. I never saw Christy Ring playing, though he played into his 40s. I wish I had.
As we’re talking about Waterford, I believe this is a stronger team than the one that beat Clare. Noel Connors is back at corner-back, Tony Browne in at wing-back, Pauric Mahony at wing-forward, three very good players all in their best and natural positions and all excellent hurlers.
By doing this Waterford also have a strong bench now, with Eoin Kelly and Richie Foley ready to be sprung.
The men who made the difference against Clare were the old-stagers, Seamus Prendergast at centre-forward, John Mullane as always, Stephen Molumphy a massive game in midfield and of course the brilliant Brick Walsh.
The young lads didn’t let them down either. Stephen O’Keeffe in goal made a few great saves and Stephen Daniels did a good man-marking job on Conor McGrath.
It’s a good mix of experience and youth and I suppose that’s best shown in the midfield pairing of Molumphy and Phillip Mahony.
One thing I’d be worried about; Mullane has carried this team for so long, it’s time now for fellas like Maurice Shanahan, Shane Walsh, Pauric Mahony to step up.
Tipperary got a great boost with the return of Lar Corbett a few weeks ago, a boost again now that he’s been named for his first start of the year. He got four goals in this equivalent game last year. And while he might not score four tomorrow, he will cause problems.
Tipperary’s two crucial players in the attack now though are Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher and Brian ‘Buggy’ O’Meara (they love their nicknames in Tipperary!).
These are two very honest players, whole-hearted, strong and willing. If Tipperary can get more ball into O’Meara he’ll do damage against anyone.
Then you have Noel McGrath alongside him, one of the most deadly finishers in the game. That’s a dangerous attack.
In midfield Shane McGrath is really back to his best form but needs Brendan Maher back to form also. We’ve seen bits of it this year but not 70 minutes. Whether it’s a question of Brendan getting back to full fitness after that ankle injury or getting back his full confidence, he isn’t yet the player he was in 2010. Tipp need him to be, if they’re to win the All-Ireland this year.
In defence, Tipperary have problems. One man they need a big game from is Paul Curran at full-back. He’s the team captain and the leader of that full-back line but I don’t think his form has been up to it and it’s affecting those alongside him.
He’s been a great servant for Tipperary but he’s going to have to improve. Tipp were vulnerable in the full-back line against both Limerick and Cork, they’re going to have to close off that avenue to goal.
Look back to last Sunday and the one great thing Galway’s win has done is given great heart to underdogs everywhere in this year’s championship. Wexford will be using it against Cork in the qualifiers, Waterford will be using it as motivation here as if they didn’t have motivation enough already.
But the Déise should dwell too long on 2011. That was a huge negative. Leave it at that. They have a lot of new players, a different look about them. What they should be looking at is the fact this is their eighth Munster final in the last 11 years and won four of those.
Will they win this? I don’t think so. Tipperary have had two tougher games on their journey here, are well blooded in this year’s championship, but have to be at their best. It will be close.