Lying in a Roscommon hospital room on a hot summer’s day in 1989, he heard the tannoy from Hyde Park down the road proclaiming Mayo as Connacht football champions.
Winning a provincial title was still a novel experience for Mayo after the bleak 1970s but that match had all the drama to entice a generation of supporters into a worship.
A draw in Castlebar. A replay in Roscommon. Tony McManus scoring a goal late on to put Roscommon a point up. Mayo tearing down the field and scoring a goal of their own. It was disallowed, but a free was awarded. Michael Fitzmaurice pointed. The game went to extra time. Frank Noone, who blew out his knee and ended his season, tore across the field on his crutches to give his side a pep talk. Mayo won 3-14 to 2-13.
By that stage Mayo corner back and captain Jimmy Browne, man of the match that day, was on an ambulance stretcher suffering concussion.
“I got a wallop to the chest and my head went flying back and hit the ground and they had to take me out. They put me in the ambulance and were getting ready to send me to hospital and who was in the ambulance as well but Frank Noone,” he said.
“Next thing we heard this cheer when the game was over and Mayo had won. My wife Patricia was coming into the ambulance to me and they had me strapped in. Next thing the back doors opened and Patricia went to come in but Frank jumped out on his crutches to celebrate with the team. I would have been gone too but I was strapped in.
“I was back training the following Tuesday night but I had to work [printer] the Monday night in the Western People. Trying to work those hours and play football was hard. I had nearly finished up in ’88, with the job and the hours and two kids, Kieran and Linda.”
But he was glad he stayed on. That was the year he became the first man to captain Mayo in an All-Ireland final since Sean Flanagan in 1951. They lost to Cork, the first of five final losses over 17 years, but the hype exploded before every match, every town, village and crossroads in the county draped in red and green. “The place went daft. Back where I was born on Ferran Terrace [Ballina] the street was lined with flags and bunting because I was from that area.
“I’ve great memories of it. People still say to me ‘were you nervous?’ and I wasn’t one bit nervous. The only thing I was nervous about was the thoughts of walking up the steps to pick up Sam. I was so nervous about the thoughts of speaking and was more nervous about speaking than playing. I always enjoyed football and if you enjoyed it, you will do well.
“They were exciting times. But every time you went outside the door, people were after you for tickets. There were no mobile phones then so we were lucky but I had to take the phone off the hook at one stage. Back then people kept saying ‘you’ll get two for me surely’ and used to think I had 100 tickets upstairs. They thought because I was part of the team and captain that I’d be getting loads of tickets. We got 10 each in the end but by the time the family were sorted, that was it.”
And that was where it all went wrong. Some fed off the hype but a lot more struggled. By the time the game came around, they were exhausted.
What followed was probably worse. A week-long homecoming tour with no silverware to show for it. Jimmy still shudders at the thoughts. The day after the final they were taken from civic receptions to the back of a wagon in the same towns, villages and crossroads. He didn’t get home until 3am and was shattered. The next day it was more of the same.
It wouldn’t happen now though. Mayo have been learning from the painful lessons of the past.
“I think they’re better prepared. They were lucky to get into the league play-offs but beating Kerry in the league semi-finals in Croke Park was huge. Beating Dublin in the league was the one. No one expected much and they went out and hammered them. It was a big boost.”
Mayo people are learning too. Take a trip down Ferran Terrace this week though, just like most of Mayo, and you will see a different story to 23 years go. Flags are starting to pop up but it’s a far more businesslike affair.
“There has been a lot of emotional disappointment in Mayo football over the years. We had been up to Croke Park and lost five All-Irelands.
“Croke Park drains you as a player. When you get to the last 10 minutes, the legs shake a little bit more. It’s not because lads are not fit enough. It’s the whole build up. It’s simple when the game starts, you play football.”
If they win it will be a source of comfort for Jimmy. He’s not haunted by the past but wants to see this mission completed. In David Clarke, who will take over from Andy Moran for the day in leading out the team, he sees another Ballina man follow in his footsteps. To see him do it would be special. Can they make this one count?
“They’ll win it by taking their scores and keeping their concentration. The last day when Kevin McLoughlin went off against Dublin they dipped and when he came on, he settled the team. I thought Dublin were about to get revenge for 2006. Mayo had stopped picking up breaks.
“It’d be hard done but I’d let the ball in much quicker by using the foot pass. Put the ball right in behind them and if that doesn’t work, kick points from distance. If you can mix those, you will cause problems for Donegal. If Mayo get three or four up by half time, Donegal must come out of their shell and Mayo can exploit that.”