Paul Browne’s role is now that of a consultant for the active members of the Limerick midfielders club.
A regular starter throughout the league, 28-year-old Browne was relegated to the bench come championship, as management opted for Cian Lynch and Darragh O’Donovan in the middle of the field.
The Bruff man was used in three of their four Munster round-robin outings, but his season came to a cruel end when he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament the weekend after they fell to Clare in the Munster championship.
“Joe O’Connor was the first person over to me and I said to Joe: ‘I’m done for here,’” Browne recalls of the injury incurred in training.
The necessary surgery has since been performed and, given he’s still in and around the panel, it must surely gnaw away at him to be missing out on their bid for Liam MacCarthy glory. The day of their quarter-final against Kilkenny was when it hit home that he had gone from player to spectator.
“It was a strange sensation not to be packing your bag. I’d be meticulous enough about packing my bag the night before, double and triple checking it. It’s weird not to have to go through that scenario. I’m like a supporter now with the best seat in the house.”
Almost more frustrating at missing out on Limerick’s run to the All-Ireland final is that Browne, prior to doing his knee, was never enjoying his hurling more.
Ahead of the 2014 All-Ireland football decider, then Kerry manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice spoke of the importance of having the injured Colm Cooper around camp, so as to allow the less decorated members of the group feed off his experience. Having joined the Limerick panel in 2009, Browne has been fulfilling a similar role these past few weeks, even if he maintains the younger players in John Kiely’s squad need little instruction.
“When you’re not togged or not playing, it’s amazing what you pick up on. All I’ve been trying to do over the last couple of weeks is to keep the lads in good spirits. You don’t have to be saying too much to them. I go in to the boys at half-time. If I’m seeing any patterns, I’ll talk to Darragh [O’Donovan], Cian [Lynch], and Will [O’Donoghue] there at midfield and say: ‘Look, this is happening or that is happening.’ They’ll say: ‘Look, I’m trying to do this or that, what do you think?’ The players and management have been fantastic in including me.”
With 11 of the starting team put out against Cork having won an All-Ireland U21 medal in 2015 or 2017, this Limerick side, by some distance, is the youngest of those at hurling’s top table. Browne isn’t surprised at how quickly they’ve adapted to life at senior level and stamped their authority on the inter-county scene.
“The attitude of the boys is different to any hurlers who have come through before. They are an incredibly hard-working and honest bunch of lads. There isn’t a bad egg among them.”
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