The dissolution of the Soviet Union was in December 1991. The Ukrainians voted overwhelmingly for independence in a referendum that year, writes Nickey Brennan.
What you may ask has that to do with sporting matters?
Well, nothing actually, but just around that same time a young Tony Browne made his debut with the Waterford senior hurlers against Galway in the National Hurling League. Over the next 23 years he built a memorable and outstanding career.
He leaves the inter-county stage as one of the most admired hurlers to represent the county; to ever have played the ancient game. Déise under-age hurling is in a good place right now and it is fair to assume that the exploits of Tony Browne inspired many of his county’s young hurlers.
His retirement came as no surprise. He turns 41 in July. He has played his part in all of Waterford’s greatest achievements over the past two decades.
I imagine he looked enviously across the Suir at the achievements of great rivals Kilkenny over many of those years. It was tough luck for Browne and his team mates that a very successful era for Kilkenny hurling occurred just at the time when his native Waterford were also scaling significant heights.
We were not to know it at the time but Waterford’s loss to Kilkenny in Thurles last July in the All-Ireland Qualifier was to be his last outing in the county colours. That was a game the Déise could have won in normal time but Kilkenny was the master in extra time.
Browne was introduced during extra time. Despite his rallying call to comrades they again fell to their neighbours. When the Mount Sion player failed to appear in the National League he was unlikely to be considered for the championship.
It says a lot for Browne’s character and attitude that at 40 years of age he could comfortably handle players barely more than half his age. It was that loyalty and commitment which endeared him to Waterford supporters.
Most people’s first experience of seeing Tony Browne in action was in the 1992 under-21 All-Ireland hurling final against Offaly at a packed Nowlan Park. It was Waterford’s most memorable day since they defeated Kilkenny in the 1959 All-Ireland senior final.
Browne joins many of hurling’s finest to leave the stage without a Celtic Cross. He got to play in an All-Ireland final but that was a forgettable experience when Kilkenny ran out easy winners.
Despite that huge disappointment his trophy cabinet is laden with many rewards from his exceptional endeavours with Waterford. He won four Munster titles in 2002, 2004, 2007 and 2010. I well recall seeing his great goal against Tipperary in the 2002 Munster final which helped to end a 39 year wait for a Munster title.
I am sure Browne and his Waterford team mates took a lot of satisfaction when winning the 2007 National League final as it was a rare victory over Kilkenny in a national decider. His consistently brilliant displays saw him win three All-Star awards in 1998, 2006 and 2007. In fact, 1998 was a special year for Browne. He won the coveted Hurler of the Year award, a rare honour for a player whose county did not reach that year’s All-Ireland final.
His fellow county man Dan Shanahan achieved a similar honour in 2007.
Despite his longevity with Waterford, Browne’s departure robs the panel of an inspirational leader. The baton has now passed to Seamus Prendergast and Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh to lead the team in the Munster championship.
Browne may have seen little game time last year, but his presence on the panel was important for the inexperienced players. He may have retired from the inter-county scene, but Browne has no intention of giving up on his club Mount Sion. He scored eight points from the centre forward position in a recent club game.
Browne won seven county titles. He can now devote all his time to helping his club to an eight title.
There is no connection with the fact that Tony Browne came on to the inter-county scene as Ukraine voted for independence. Made you curious though!