Colm Collins is facing into his seventh National Football league campaign as Clare senior football manager when he takes his side to Cusack Park in Mullingar this Sunday for the opening round of the 2020 series.
Since his debut season in 2014, Collins has overseen arguably the most progressive period for the game in the county with the climb from the basement tier to the top half of the standings serving as testament to that.
It is also worth noting that since he has taken over the reins, Clare have never dropped back down a tier in the league with Sunday marking a fourth consecutive season in the top 16 teams for the Banner.
That record becomes all the more importance with this year’s league taking on added significance as the new format seeing the teams that drop out of Division Two potentially missing out on a run in the All-Ireland qualifiers later in the year. Collins feels now that the new structure is in place, everyone just has to get on with focusing on the job at hand.
He said: “I would have my own views on how to do things but this is what it is now and we have to just get on with it. When something is passed and the job is done, you just have to embrace it and move on and no more about it. I don’t think it will impact on how teams will approach the league at all. From our point of view, we have always just approached the league as one game at a time and get as much as we can out of each game and we will be doing no different this year. We will be looking to see what we can get out of the Westmeath game and we will be looking no further than that. I don’t think there is any other way of looking at things. The minute you take your eye off the game at hand and start looking down the road is the time you are going to be in trouble. We can only focus entirely on Westmeath and once that is over, then you think about the next game”.
Clare will be without a host of players who have played a huge part in the progress over the last few years for the coming season through a mixture of injuries and players opting off the panel. Close to 40 players saw action during the pre-season games and Collins is confident the talent is there to cope with the loss of those who are absent.
“We did what we intended to do in the McGrath Cup games. Outside of Cathal O’Connor playing both, we had two entirely different teams for the two games and we were delighted with what we got out of it so hopefully some of these lads will be able to come up to the plate in the National League for us. There is a lot of talk about the players that are not with us this year but the other side of that is we have players who are here that were not available for us last year against Meath and they are good players too so we are happy with how things are at the moment. We know what the lads we have can do and we know that they are well capable of performing so there is no fear there. We will be fine as long as we hit the ground running on Sunday and work our way from there” he said.
With Collins now entering his seventh consecutive term as manager, the Cratloe clubman is second only Tyrone boss Mickey Harte as the longest serving current inter-county manager. Since taking the reins, Collins has developed a style of play with Clare that has seen an emphasis on attacking games with crisp pacy football. He feels focusing on playing a positive brand of football is something that has benefits both on and off the field.
He said: “I don’t think anything has changed over the years really. We believe sincerely in playing decent football and we believe in working hard. These are the basics and it is the same stuff that we have been going over all the time and there is nothing new in it or it is not rocket science either. It is the way football should be played and I don’t believe in putting 15 players behind the ball. That might give you a short term gain but it will not give you any progress in the long term. You have got to always play to win and we will not be changing anything about what we do. We will be going out to get the win in Mullingar and that’s it. One of the things that we have always emphasised here is that everyone should be coming with a smile on their face and enjoying themselves. We spend far too much time at this, players and management, and if it is not an enjoyable experience then it is no good. I think the only way you get the best out of players and mentors is when everyone is enjoying themselves. If the atmosphere in the whole set-up is positive, then everyone leaves the training session feeling energised and happy to be part of it. If your emphasis is on negative football and doing stuff that you are not comfortable with, I think that is short term gain”.
So what is he hoping to get out of this year’s campaign?
“There is no two ways about it only that Division Two is seriously competitive. There is very little between all the teams in it, and I think a lot of the games will come down to one or two scores. We just have to make sure that everything we can control, we will control. We might not win every day but we should be there or thereabouts and hopefully we will get the things right that might edge the results our way” he noted.