Tipperary football great aiming to guide Kilkenny club to Leinster hurling glory

ONLY WHEN THE semi-final business was completed, did Declan Browne start to consider the jam-packed county final Sunday that was in store.

In mid October the Graigue-Ballycallan team he coaches surmounted their last four Kilkenny intermediate hurling assignment on a Saturday afternoon.

The following day he was back cheering on his homeplace in Tipperary as the Moyle Rovers footballers caught the reigning champions Clonmel Commercials with a late goal that propelled them into the senior decider.

And so that filled his diary for the Sunday of the Bank Holiday weekend. Managing from the sideline in Kilkenny for a game that started at 1pm with the plan to tear down the road to Thurles afterwards to support from the stands for a match that commenced at 3pm.

He couldn’t have scripted the ensuing events better. The Kilkenny match may have had generated early anxiety when Graigue Ballycallan trailed neighbours Tullaroan by nine points at one first-half juncture but they reeled them in and starting a two-point deficit in the 56th minute, timed their finish to perfection with a string of five unanswered points.

Browne shared briefly in the post-match celebrations and then pointed the car towards Semple Stadium. The completion of that 50km trip saw have the good fortune to discover the curtain-raiser in Tipperary had gone to extra-time.

A delayed senior throw-in meant he was present to take in the action as Moyle Rovers ended their nine-year wait for a senior crown in style.

Special day yesterday winning county intermediate hurling final with @graiguebcGAA in Nowlan Park and dashing to Semple Stadium to see the mighty @moylerovers regain the county title after 9 years of hard work, 2 incredible sets of players, some week of celebration ahead 👏👏👏

— Declan Browne (@dbrowne15) October 29, 2018

Source: Declan Browne/Twitter

“I saw the cup lifted in Kilkenny and then straight into the car and up to Thurles. More or less got all that as well after the senior match was delayed. It was an eventful day but it could have been an awful lot worse.”

The hurling success represented quite a turnaround. In late August Tullaroan handed out an 11-point beating but in over two months Graigue-Ballycallan managed to shift the dynamic against the club next door to them on the western border of Kilkenny.

“We were mad underdogs going into the hurling, no point in saying any different,” reflects Browne.

“The way Tullaroan hurled in the first 20 minutes of that game, we should have been well out of sight. They were super but just couldn’t keep the scoreboard ticking over. We hung in there and got the two last points before half-time. It gave us a lift. To win by three points after being nine behind was a massive achievement. People will say we rode our luck and we did, but we still out-hurled Tullaroan for the second half.”

M Lyng Motors IHC FINAL @kilkennyCLG
Full Time GBC: 2-16(22)
Tullaroan: 2-13(19) we did it, unbelievable.. COUNTY CHAMPIONS 🏆🏆well done lads 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻

— Graigueballycallan (@graiguebcGAA) October 28, 2018

Source: Graigueballycallan/Twitter

There was an exhiliration to that dramatic triumph and a sense of elation then at seeing Moyle Rovers back at the summit of Tipperary senior football. Browne was the star on a team that swept up five titles in six seasons from 1995 but lean times had occurred of late.

“It was a long time for us, obviously beaten in three finals in the meantime. Luckily this year we got a very, very late goal against Commercials (in the semi-final), a real sucker punch.

“You need a bit of luck to get you over the line and as the years went on with Moyle Rovers, we were kind of wondering would we ever get it again. So thankfully the back is broken on that now and the lads can look forward again.

“It breaks the cycle. I know we’d won a good few of them but it is nice to get a change.”

The 2018 season has rolled on from there. He’ll back on the wings of Nowlan Park this Saturday, this time trying to steer Graigue-Ballycallan to a Leinster title. The union between Tipperary’s most lauded footballer and a Kilkenny hurling club began four years ago.

“They took a punt and I took a punt and we’re still going. I was in college with Conor Power, who is living down there. He rang me to see would I be interested and I said I’d have a go off it.

“Four years ago we wouldn’t have foreseen this happening, there was a bit of transition in the club as well. But thankfully there’s a lot of good young lads after coming through, you need that influx of youth.

“Four good years, enjoyed every one of them. It’s tough going down there, it’s a good championship.”

As a player Browne’s feats in football were what gained him recognition. All-Star awards in 1998 and 2003 illustrated his capacity to get noticed on a lower-tier tea, there were days to cherish like Croke Park glory in the form of the Tommy Murphy Cup in 2005 and a relentless series of scoring bursts in club and county colours.

Declan Browne after the 2005 Tommy Murphy Cup final.

Source: INPHO

But the hurling chapter of his career was never hidden from view. It was there to be observed from the All-Ireland medal with Tipperary in minor (1996), the 1999 senior league campaign and Munster U21 success, a couple of Fitzgibbon Cup medals on Waterford IT teams stacked with household names and a 1-6 tally on a 2009 February night as Moyle Rovers lost an All-Ireland junior club decider.

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“Football would have been number one but we’d a good bit of success as well in hurling in the junior and intermediate ranks. The way it’s gone with drills and coaching styles, they’re the same for hurling and football, it’s just a different sized ball. That’s the way that I’d look at it.

“If you get players to buy in to what you’re trying to do, whether it’s right or wrong, that’s the whole idea of it. If lads trust what you’re doing, it is half the battle.

“There’s never been much of a divide for me with hurling and football, they always went hand in hand in my eyes. I learned a lot of things from both.”

He started working with a club who had a rich recent tradition. Between 1998 and 2001, they contested four senior finals on the bounce in Kilkenny, winning two titles, reigning in Leinster in the winter of 2000 and only being undone by Galway’s Athenry after extra-time on St Patrick’s Day in 2001.

Then came a lull and then came a fall. A one-point loss to Fenians in 2013 visited relegation upon Graigue-Ballycallan and there was no quick-fix or easy return available in the intermediate ranks in Kilkenny.

Browne soon discovered what an intense club environment they were operating in. St Patrick’s bettered them in last year’s intermediate final, just like they had done in championship openers in 2014 and 2015. They stuck at it though as a crop of youngsters filtered through.

Having a couple of veterans aided their cause as well. After all their exploits with Kilkenny, Eddie Brennan and James Ryall are still flying the flag for their club.

James Ryall in action for Kilkenny in the 2006 All-Ireland senior hurling final.

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“Eddie is super,” says Browne. “In my years involved, it’s just been a pleasure, James Ryall the same way, Dara Walton, Ciaran Hoyne. Even for myself going in the first day, it was a bit daunting because you didn’t know how they’d react to me. But from day one it’s been super, we’ve all got along and that’s everyone.

“For a younger lad at 18 or 19 coming along, being in the same team as Eddie and James is phenomenal. To be still doing it at this stage of their careers is incredible. If you’re able to do it, they’ll do it and that’s the way they look at it. They’re fit and they’re in some shape the two of them. That does make it easier whereas like myself you might put on a few pounds here or there and you’d struggle.

“These lads don’t have that problem, they’re naturally fit but they’re just club men to the core. That’s very important, when the whole inter-county setup goes away from you, it’s very easy to drift away from the sport altogether.

“The lads have dug deep. They haven’t had good years over the last few so to stick at it and get a county medal, that’s the ultimate goal in every club players’ eye. To be top in your own county is massive.”

An emotional @NedzerB13 speaks to #GAABEO after his Graigue – Ballycallan side came back from behind to beat Tullaroan in the Kilkenny Intermediate Hurling Final. #GAA #GAABEO #TG4 @ballsdotie @The42_ie @SportsJOEdotie pic.twitter.com/UmeqQNF8vk

— GAA BEO TG4 (@GAA_BEO) October 30, 2018

They had little time for respite after the Kilkenny success with a Leinster date against Kildare champions Celbridge.

“There’s no point in playing these games if you’re not allowed celebrate. I don’t drink myself but I firmly believe you have to let loose and go. Celbridge was a rocky one because we didn’t know what condition we’d be in six days after winning a county title. That was a tough, tough battle. When you win that game, you realise you’re only another game away from a Leinster final.”

And so they got past Wexford’s St Mogue’s and now take on Portlaoise on Saturday, two decades after losing to the Laois club in a Leinster senior semi-final.

Absolutely thrilled for this young chap @NedzerB13, nothing more can be said about this legend, great player, great club man and great friend, well done Ed, 👏👏@graiguebcGAA pic.twitter.com/kchA53zvMb

— Declan Browne (@dbrowne15) October 30, 2018

Source: Declan Browne/Twitter

“I think the lads ambition was to hurl senior,” outlines Browne.

“That’s massive to them to call themselves senior hurlers next year. Winning the county was the ultimate goal but Portlaoise like ourselves are going to be all guns blazing for Saturday.

“The support has been fantastic as well and to go out and beat real near neighbours in the county final probably added to that as well. When you get relegated from senior, you might think you’ll never get back. It’s great for them to have this journey before Christmas. No matter what happens Saturday, it’s been a fantastic year.”

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