Rugby community farewells rugby's gentleman

Irish rugby lost a long-time advocate this week with the passing of Galway's Dr Anthony (Tony ) Browne.

The 83-years-old from Kingston enjoyed a life-long association with the game, and held the highest office as president of the IRFU in 1991-1992

From Moygownagh in north Mayo, Tony Browne's introduction to rugby was as a 12-years-old boarder in Garbally College. It was the beginning of a long and happy association with the game to which he made huge contributions as both coach and administrator throughout his life, overseeing and living through the many changes the game has undergone in the last 60 years.

Instrumental in the purchase of lands in Cloonacauneen where his club Corinthians is based, Browne had played with Ballina and Crossmolina before his move to Galway. He would joke that he was the first paid player when as a student in Dublin his transport was paid for him to travel down to Crossmolina for games. The Mayo team made it to the Connacht Junior final in 1962, losing to Corinthians - the club with which he would have a long association after moving to Galway to set up his dental practice.

The ban on Gaelic players involvement in rugby was still in place when he started coaching rugby, but when in charge of Corinthians in 1972, three well-known footballers joined the club - Martin Newell, Enda Colleran and Jimmy Duggan. It signalled the first breakthrough from Gaelic to the rugby scene. Others followed, including Jimmy Glynn, who played against the All Backs in 1972.

It was natural Browne's talents would be utilised on the provincial stage - first as selector for Connacht Rugby, and also a Connacht coach in the amateur era, taking over from Johnny Dooley, and building life-long friendships.

Always good humoured, a forward thinker, and a man of principle, Browne continued to distinguish himself and became a sub selector for Ireland at a time when no Connacht person was allowed to become a full selector. He continued in the role for five years after which he resigned on principle, instigating a change in the IRFU's rule.

He went on to hold many offices within both the Connacht Branch and the IRFU, all of which he undertook with grace and dignity, including chairman of referees and Irish schools, and president of the Connacht Rugby Branch, of which he remained a trustee until his passing. In 1991 he became the first and only person in the history of Corinthians to hold the office of president of IRFU during World Cup year.

Browne was also an avid horseracing enthusiast, and, with Ray Rooney, was owner of Golden Cygnet. Trained by Eddie O'Grady, Golden Cygnet remains the highest-rated novice hurdler of all time despite a short career which ended sadly.

Throughout his life Browne was a natural leader of people, respected and liked, a person who distinguished himself in many areas of adminstration, and who made lifelong friends, many of whom, such as rugby greats Ronnie Dawson and John O'Driscoll, attended his funeral on Monday in the Sacred Heart Church, Seamus Quirke Road. But more importantly Tony Browne was a generous-spirited person, the ultimate gentleman, and a family man.

Tony Browne is survived by his wife Treasa and children Deirdre, Paul, Anne-Marie, Eoin and Niall, and extended family.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

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