Damian

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Damian was born in Galway, Ireland in 1980, the oldest of 3 to Mary and Joe Browne. Educated at St. Joseph's college (The Bish) in Galway City after graduating in 1998 Damian joined the Connacht rugby squad coached by Glenn Ross for summer pre-season training. Having first taken up rugby as a 11 year old with his local club Galwegians RFC and having yet to play a senior rugby match this was a huge step forward in his fledging rugby journey.

In the 98/99 season Damian wore the Irish jersey for the first time at U19 level, starting in the 2nd row verses Italy in Treviso. Making his debut with his good friend Johnny O'Connor, remarkably the first of four debuts the two would make together in the next three years, Damian scored the winning try deep into injury time, sending Ireland to victory.

"Even for a dreamer like me this was beyond anything I could have imagined"

The following season John Kingston would join Galwegians RFC as their new head coach from Richmond RFC in London and preceded to have a massive influence on Damian personally and professionally. Ever present in the 2nd row, Galwegians earned promotion to Division 1 beating runaway leaders Blackrock College away from home on the last day of the season. The fruits of this season bore a first full-time professional contract for Damian with Connacht rugby and selection for the Ireland U-21 squad, earning 7 caps between the Six Nation and World Cup in Australia.

After a gruelling pre-season under Connacht's new coach South African Steph Nel, Damian would go on to make his debut against Bedford RFC on a scorching hot day in August. The following season would see the formation of a new competition in which the Irish Provinces, Scottish Clubs and Welsh Regions would compete against each other called the Celtic League, in it's inaugural season Connacht would reach the Quarter finals, narrowly losing out to Glasgow Warriors in front of a packed sports ground. Damian would go on to make 63 appearances for Connacht over a rollercoaster 4 years for the province, from the low of the threat of closure in 02/03 to the highs of a Celtic Cup semi-final and European Challenge Cup semi-final against Harlequins RFC in 03/04.

"The semi-finals verses Harlequins were very special occasions for the group. For me it was the accumulation of 4 years hard work by Steph Nel and Des Ryan trying to change the physical states, mental strengths and attitudes of the group and build a new culture. Although very hard work from a players point of view at the time, when I look back now I have so much appreciation for the values in built in me"

By the start of the 08/09 season Damian had followed former Saints teammates, Steve Thompson, Ben Cohen and Christian Short across the Channel to CA Brive in The Corrèze region of South West France. "I'd always wanted to give the French league a go and coming of a miserable last year of injury with Northampton I felt a change was needed. When Steve contacted me saying the club where interested, the deal was done and I was packing my bags again." Damian would play three seasons in Brive making 75 appearance for the club.

"This was a fun time in my career, I loved the sights and sounds of Top14, the traditions and rivalries and the confrontational side of the league. Where I really profited was outside of rugby though, learning a new language, enjoying a new culture and embracing a different pace of life"

Damian joined Northampton Saints at the start of the 04/05 season and would make his debut on the first day of the season verses Bath in Franklin's Gardens in a team containing British Lions Tom Smith, Ben Cohen, Steve Thompson, Ex-All Black's Andrew Blowers, Mark Robinson and Bruce Reihana and former Springbok captain Corne Krige. Damian wouldn't miss a 22 man squad what would prove to be a tough season for the team narrowly avoiding relegation on the last day of the season. 05/06 season would prove to be Damian's best season in the green, black and gold of Northampton where a string of consistent performances saw him voted Player's player of the year, had the honour to be named Captain in the absence of Bruce Reihana and touring North America with Ireland A . In 4 seasons with The Saints Damian would accumulate 95 first team appearances, including a extraordinary run of 75 unbroken match day squads, highlights being two Heineken Cup quarter finals and a Semi final.

"My time at Northampton was definitely rich in experiences. From relegation from the Premiership to Heineken cup semi finals, back to back injuries missing close to a full season after barely missing a match in 3 years, it had it all. More than anything these years were a time of learning, growth and development personally. I loved playing for this great club with is epic history, traditions and it's rugby mad town"

After his three year sojourn in the french country side Damian was on his way home having signed for Leinster Rugby then under the guidance of Joe Schmidt. "This was a very exciting but daunting move for me, at the time Leinster were stacked full of very experienced internationals and coming off winning the Heineken Cup for the 2nd time in three years" Damian would play 31 games in two seasons in the blue of Leinster. "It's impossible for me to sum up these two years in a sentence or two. The best I can do is to say it was a privilege to live and play in this environment with these people. I am so glad I got to experience a working environment like that in my career, a place full of selfless people striving to be the best they can be everyday." During Damian's two years at Leinster they would win The Heineken Cup, The Amlin Challenge Cup and The Guinness PRO12 League.

"It was a incredible two years right at the most demanding level of club rugby and I loved it, unfortunately my body was surrendering to years of punishment making daily life one of survival on certain levels. I would loved to have finished my career at Leinster but shoulder reconstruction surgery after the Heineken Cup game verses Clermont finished my season and my contract was inevitably not renewed. There was no hard feelings, I'd been in this business long enough and seen this happen to numerous teammates before, these machines keep on rolling and you can either keep up or get left behind"

"Injury periods can be dark times for a player, especially if you're stagnant in your progression or regressing constantly but positively you build huge amounts of invaluable resilience through these times"

After 8 months out Damian would finally return to the pitch in the colours of newly promoted US Oyonnax back in the French TOP 14.

"I will always be thankful for Christophe Urios and Oyonnax for taking a chance on signing me while still injured"

Oyo's first season in the top flight of French rugby would prove to be a memorable one for the club with the smallest budget in the TOP 14, beating the likes of Toulon, Clermont and Stade Francais.

The Toulon game is one of my favourite memories of my rugby career. Toulon reigning Heineken cup champions started the game with 750+ caps between them, we had a handful of Czech and Romanian caps between us, we are 3 points behind with 8 minutes to go and down to 14 men and we come back to win in a very physically 80 minutes. I just remember sitting in the changing room after battered, exhausted and content" Damian made 30 appearances for Oyonnax, captaining the club on one occasion. A chronic knee injury disrupted his second season and would ultimately end his career.

"Obviously no player wants their career to end like that but that was the reality for me. I don't know if my body would have stood up to another year of punishment so retiring had been on my mind anyway but that's not to say it wasn't a very frustrating time. I felt it was another obstacle that could be overcome but I was alone in the fight. Eventually mentally I broke and pulled the curtain down on something that had consumed my every thought and decision for the last 16/17 years."

During the last few years of his rugby career Damian took any opportunity with down time to travel, explore and challenge himself, including climbing Mont Blanc and Gran Paradiso, summiting Kilimanjaro, high altitude treks in Peru, Kyrgyzstan and a two week expedition into the Pamirs of Afghanistan. Since retiring he can finally take on the challenges that couldn't be done while playing. The first one of these was the 2016 Marathon des Sables in Morocco, a 257km self-supported 6 day race across the varying terrains of the Sahara desert for which he raised nearly 7000 euro between Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association and Amani Children's Home,Tanzania. Next up is his biggest challenge yet The 2017 Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Row a 4800km man powered crossing of the Atlantic ocean.

Speaking about his travels and adventures Damian said, "I've always had a love for travel. My earliest memories associated with it are of looking though a old atlas with my parents in our sitting room at home and dreaming of what these strange countries might be like, then our family holidays up and down the beautiful west coast of Ireland from Mizen to Malin head, discovering deserted beaches and forest trails. I'm so appreciative now looking back that we holidayed at home and it's given me a very strong connection with the west coast and it's nature.

I adore the feeling of arriving in a country you've never been in before and all the unknowns it holds, the new smells, faces and actions literally outside the arrivals doors. My first big international trip was to South Africa with some friends in 1998 and I have never really stopped since then. Now i'm at a stage where i want to see every nook and cranny of this amazing planet, see with my own eyes life in the places we're told we can't go, climb to the top of our highest mountains, cross our vast oceans and deserts, swim in our seas, spend time with the magnificent wildlife we share our existence with, simply eek every drop out of life I possibly can. I want to combine my love adventure with my admiration for the human body and mind and their immense capabilities while trying to give back and have positive impacts on a world that's given me so much"