Déise veteran hooked on hurling

SOMETIMES when they point the car west for training in Dungarvan it’ll start.

Someone will point out the window and ask him if he’d prefer heading out with the rod and line to laps of Fraher Field. A cheeky youngster?

“Well,” says Tony Browne, “they’re all youngsters at this stage.”

Chances are the last time you saw Browne was in action against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final. High summer in Croke Park. A cast of thousands.

The man himself is partial to the twilit solitude of the Blackwater, however.

“I’m basically into fly fishing for trout and salmon,” he says. “I inherited it – my grandfather and my father were both big into it. There were seven of us in it, all boys, and my father would bring us off fishing – we’re originally from Kilmeaden, so we’d be fishing around Knockaderry and Ballysionnach.”

His father gave them an alternative to the quietness of fishing as well, tipping them into the Ballyduff GAA field on the way home to tire themselves out with a puck-around, and Tony Jr was bitten by the hurling bug to go along with his fishing addiction.

“It’s a great way to leave the hustle and bustle behind,” he says.

“We’re country at heart, so we were always interested in being up around the small rivers and the Blackwater.

“In the last couple of years, though, the way the game has developed, I can’t give the fishing the time it deserves. Fishing season is March to September, which is really awkward. There are nights I’d love to get up to the river, but there are also evenings when you’d be able to scoot out to the river just after training and it’s just the right time of the evening, dusk, you get the evening rise...”

The contrast between the calm silence of the Blackwater and the sound and fury of a Munster championship game couldn’t be greater. Does he draw on that tranquility to prepare for big games? “Some people do yoga or whatever because they need to relax with a big game coming up. They mightn’t enjoy doing it but they feel they have to do it.

“For me the fishing is a natural thing, a normal thing. It relaxes me even though I don’t realise it. Other guys do other things, but for me, I could be five or six hours on the lake or the river, and it seems like only half an hour. I wouldn’t say you go into a trance, the time just passes.”

Browne and his brother Mossy, a fisheries officer, sometimes hit for Galway and the Corrib – “there’s nice fishing around there” – but at heart they’re loyal to the quiet rivers of the southeast.

“Around the Blackwater would be my home turf, though I’m not sure if I’d be sharing the exact spots, we’ve been successful there so we’ll keep it quiet. A certain fly might be taken on a certain night, and you’d have lads shouting over the river, ‘what are they taking?’, and the father would shout back, ‘blackbird’s fancy’ – which means a worm.

“And that’s another part of it – coming up with the right fly. Mossy ties most of our flies, and it’s something I’d like to get into at some stage.”

Is Mossy the best angler in the family?

“If I wasn’t hurling I’d be close,” laughs Browne. “He is. He knows the lie of the river and he’d have a bit more free time. He’s a top class angler, though, people in Waterford would tell you. He’s a left-hander, like my father, and you can have awkward left-handers, but they’re naturals.”

It’s not about filling the bag, says the Waterford hero.

“You’d catch and release, but it’s not about catching the fish. It’s the relaxation – you’re out in the air and away from the hustle and bustle.

“The week of a big game you’re training, or you’re in town and everyone is asking you about the game, so it’s a good way to get away. A lot of the lads from up the west of the county would fish, or they’d say ‘wouldn’t you like to be out there, Browne’. Once the hurling season starts, it takes over, but if I need a break I’ll potter off with the father or the brother and we’ll spend the day at it.”

Whether the hurling season will take over for Browne this year is something he has still to decide. If he has any doubts he won’t play this year.

“I’m back training a few weeks and it’s going to be a very hard decision to make. I’m probably at a stage where it’s hard to go on but it’s also hard to let it go.

“I’d like to go out winning something, with the club or county – but I wouldn’t have a chip on the shoulder if I don’t. I’ve had a good enough career. But if I have any doubts I won’t go on.

“I’ll study what’s going on. I’d love to give it one last year, we have a lot of good young lads coming through and the Clare game is really enticing in the Munster championship. You’re 70 minutes from a Munster final, one of the biggest occasions in Irish sport.”

He stresses that the players who have been left out of the league panel are training hard: “A lot of things have been said about older fellas being rested, but that’s not really true.

“The players like Dan (Shanahan), Seamus (Prendergast), Eoin (Murphy), Ken (McGrath) and John (Mullane) have had niggling injuries and problems. I wouldn’t like it to come out that they’re resting or whatever – those injuries are being cleared up, it’s not about undervaluing the league.

“They’re training as hard as the rest of the panel, doing individual programmes to get them right.”

If he hangs up the hurley, he’ll always have the fishing rod to fall back on. “The beauty of fly fishing is that you learn something new every day. It’s something you never master, you always try to outwit the fish, to read his mind. That’s the challenge.”


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