HONEST AND HARD-WORKING were among the key traits of the Crusheen side which won back to back titles in 2010 and 2011, those same characteristics have come back to the surface again this year and it’s no coincidence that Michael Browne is back at the helm.
Browne was manager when Crusheen recorded their unprecedented success and became the first club in Clare since the St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield All-Ireland winning club side of 1998 and 1999. He is quick to clarify that he is part of a management team and not the bainisteoir this time round.
He won’t ask the world of his players this weekend only a simple request for them to leave everything out on the field. As countless sides have done before for Crusheen, they simply must give every last drop.
Afforded a second chance to make the knockout stages after scoring difference saved their bacon and instead eliminated Sixmilebridge, Crusheen grabbed the opportunity with every available limb and their quarter-final victory over Newmarket-on-Fergus served as a major turning point, he said. “To be honest that was very big (atonement) the day we played Newmarket and it was huge, we felt we let ourselves individually and as a team down, we felt we let our parishes and our supporters down, we were hurt by our own performances, it wasn’t anything that Clonlara did, it was simply ourselves that let ourselves down, we had to go out there and we had to atone for that. Newmarket suffered for that, luckily we got enough done in the first half to keep us ahead, there was nothing brilliant about the game, we only scored 3-7 or whatever it was, it wasn’t a high scoring game.
He told The Clare Echo, “To be honest once that was done I was worried because I was saying how in the name of God will I motivate them for the semi-final because we had loads for the quarter-final, so much that I wasn’t needed at all, just stand out of the way and let them do it because they knew they had to”.
Even though they lost to Clonlara by nine points in the third round, there is not a sense of looking for revenge this weekend, he admitted. “What I’m worried about is somewhere deep down in their psyche some place they will have this thing, like if you look back over the last eight or ten years that we have played Clonlara it does not make for pretty reading, I know it is in their heads and I know it because one or two of them have said it. I know they are bothered by it, when you look at the quality of the Clonlara team, look at the six forwards they have and my God they have leaders in every line and every position, two midfielders who can clock up six or seven points every day they go up, the half-back line scored seven or eight points on the day we played them”.
Managing the county final experience and the hype that surrounds it is the challenge with Cian Dillon, Donal Tuohy, Gerry O’Grady, Jamie Fitzgibbon, Conor O’Donnell and Fergus Kennedy their only starters remaining from the success of over a decade ago. “At the end of the day my motto always is, when you’re walking back over the white line at the end of the game, can you say ‘I could not have done any more’ and if you can say that it doesn’t matter what the score is whether you are ten points the winner or ten points the loser, that is all you can do and we can’t expect them to do anymore, we can’t expect them to do what they are not able to do. If we are ten or five points worse than Clonlara well then we are, we have to accept that because it is sport and it is life”.
Browne added, “If we can manage their mental approach, attitude and give them the confidence that they are good enough to go out there without making it so that it cripples them, that is the narrow line that we have to follow, hopefully we will get it right”.
In his lifetime involvement in the GAA, Michael has completed quite a lot. Prior to the Crusheen success, he was coach of the Tulla side which defeated his native club in the 2007 decider, he was involved with Clarinbridge in Galway as they went from the junior ranks to become All-Ireland club champions while he was a selector with the Clare senior hurlers for two seasons.
One of the first teams he got involved with in Crusheen won an U12 championship with a certain Gerry O’Grady, three decades have passed and O’Grady is still one of his trusted lieutenants, the connection was even noticed in one of the congratulatory texts Michael received when Gerry gave a man of the match display in the semi-final.
At the outset of 2023 he had no aspirations of getting involved with a team but that all changed when he was approached by Cian Dillon, Ross Hayes and Donal Tuohy. “They approached me and asked me would I help them to find a manager, they said they would like to have a Crusheen manager, it wasn’t that they were in any way upset over the managers they had in the past because they had made great progress, this run hasn’t come out of nowhere. I said I’d go after some of the lads that were there in 2010 and 2011, we tried them and we hadn’t much success, I was about to go and see if I could find an external manager until I got a brainwave one morning that if I brought them together that they might work as a management team, they weren’t too enamoured with that idea either, in order to get it over the line I offered to come in and give some help in the background. I have been described as the manager of this team on several occasions, I am not manager of this team, I am part of the management team. I had no intention of getting involved, I was finished with hurling as far as I was concerned except enjoying it as a spectator but I’m thrilled that I got hooked into it”.
Having answered the call, he is delighted to have rediscovered the buzz of being involved with teams. “It is amazing. What I’m really enjoying is the players, when I saw the emotion from the players when I went out on the field after the semi-final, I couldn’t believe it, I looked around me and it was as if we won a county final, there was adults there and some of them a good bit older than myself had tears running down their face because they were so thrilled it happened. A number of people have said it doesn’t matter that we’ve had such success and it has been a brilliant year, to come back and play the few games that we have played is just fantastic, that is grand but when you get to a final the expectation comes and the expectation is there, I can see it in the players, they are delighted to be there first of all but on training last Tuesday you’d have said they were Juniors, they were dropping every ball because the pressure is getting to them, that is our job as a management to sort it”.
Indeed it could be considered some sort of a masterstroke that Browne has brought with him some of the warriors from 10/11 in Paddy Vaughan, Cronan Dillon, Gearoid O’Donnell and Alan Tuohy. “What’s in my head all the time in everything that I’m doing is trying to build capacity for the club, my days are done and I shouldn’t be at this anymore but if by going in and giving a hand I can generate other managers for the future then that is what I’m at, that is my agenda”.
Their year has turned out to be a positive one but no silverware has been handed out, he is quick to flag. “Somebody said it in the dressing room, one of the players said it before I had a chance to, we’ve won nothing yet and we haven’t but we have done a lot for the parish, for those players and their self-belief and maybe for the future of hurling in the club, whatever happens on Sunday is a bonus but when you get there and you get an opportunity, it could be ten years before we are there again or longer and we know that. We’ve been lucky this year let’s face it, things have fallen our way, maybe it might last”.
Crucially Crusheen have made their luck count. “The players have done that, they have stepped up and have bought into what has been said to them, Aidan has done a fantastic job, the motivation levels among the players has gone way up, earlier in the year it was nearly like being a funeral there wasn’t a sound, now you wouldn’t hear yourself, they are much more into it and driving each other on, a lovely bond has come between the players too, when you have the likes of Gerry (O’Grady) down to Eoghan (McMahon) who is only eighteen, it is a massive gap between them but it is great to see the way they have bonded together and are encouraging each other and driving each other on. All I want is that we give a good account of ourselves in the final, there will be no disgrace in losing to a good team like Clonlara but yet when you get there you want to win it, we’ll be doing our very best and so long as we put in a really good performance and walk off the line saying we couldn’t have done anymore then we’ll all come away happy whatever the result”.
Crusheen’s sides of 2010/11 and 2023 are “different because the game is different,” he explained. “Aidan Harte has been a huge bonus to us, he is a really good coach, a good communicator who does a really good job and the lads have bought into what he is doing, the game has changed so much even in the last five or six years, it is very hard to compare because the gang we had who won the first two had been through the wars, they had been there since 2005 getting the semi-finals and lost them, they unfortunately lost in 2007 as well but they came good eventually. We had six backs that time that really you could have lined them out for the county and they would not have let the county down, we had an amazing defence and a brilliant goalkeeper, luckily we still have the same brilliant goalkeeper all the time which he showed the last time against Scariff. The game is different now, the team of 2010 and 2011 wouldn’t have been prolific scorers, this team wasn’t either until the last day, hopefully we can produce some element of it again in the final”.
Michael’s background in education has helped him to adapt and moved with the times. He was a teacher in Killeeneen National School from 1980 until 2012. “You have no choice but to move with it because if you don’t you won’t bring the players with you. You often hear about losing the dressing room, you have to have the dressing room with you, in the past I would have been quite dictatorial as a manager, ask some of the older lads and they will tell you but I’d be quite different now in the sense that you have to hand over responsibility to the players and have them involved in the decision making, that is part of leadership and it is what I still work at all the time in relation to education in the leadership field, I would have a lot of experience and the educational background would come into play”.