by Peter O’Connell
PODGE Collins talks with the same passion, clarity and honesty with which he hurls.
The Cratloe dynamo peered out of the doorway that led to the Clare dressing room in Croke Park and was instantly corralled by a bevy of dictaphone-wielding reporters. The speed with which he was surrounded was similar to that of the Clare forwards closing down the Cork defenders, as they tried desperately to rid themselves of possession and drive it downfield.
“At the start of the year, if you had told me that we’d be up lifting Liam MacCarthy at the top of those steps, I’d have laughed at you,” Podge replied when asked how this MacCarthy Cup winning lark was going down.
“Being honest, you just don’t think that you’re going to get there and to get there today, is just absolutely unbelievable. It’s the best feeling I’ve ever experienced in my life. It has worked out lovely. Week-in week-out, it’s been matches. Once you keep going, you don’t even think about the next one, which is just the way I like it,” he added.
Podge, whose brother Seán has been laid up with injury all summer, felt the shock of nearly losing the drawn game motivated Clare to produce one of the greatest All-Ireland winning displays in GAA history.
“The scare that we got the last day when it went to 72 minutes, we thought the game was over and we were after losing. Everyone was in shock. When Domhnall put the ball over the bar, we said this was our third chance because we had lost to Cork the first day (in Munster) and then drew with them. We said today we better not throw it away and, thank God, the lads stepped it up and we got the job done,” he reflected.
A lack of goals nearly cost them on September 8. On September 28, a neat handful of green flags broke Cork’s resistance and eventually buried them.
“Shane O’Donnell came up trumps. Unbelievable. If anyone asked me who to back for the first goal I’d have told them Shane O’Donnell. He’s unbelievable for goals. He turns and just thinks about one thing. I’m more shocked he got three points than the three goals. It’s more his style to get six goals than 3-3,” Podge laughed.
The Clare number 13, who was selected on the Sunday Game Team of the Year and shortlisted for player of the year, was also almost in awe of Conor McGrath’s composure when he rocketed his goal to the Cork net, eight minutes from time.
“It just shows the composure of that man. If you watch him with the club, his composure is unbelievable,” Podge remarked.
The electric atmosphere in Croke Park must have been audible well down the M7. On the field, Collins said the players couldn’t but notice the cauldron generated by the 82,276 size crowd.
“You try when you’re out on the pitch to forget about it and to just concentrate on the game. But when Shane struck the first goal the noise sent tingles to the spine. It’s unbelievable the roar you’d hear. It was demoralising that Cork were getting it after the goals the last day. It was nice that we got a bit today. Five of them!” he smiled.
Along with his brother Seán and their Cratloe team-mates, the Collins brothers have worked their way from the underage training field to Croke Park glory.
“We were in the county final in 2009. That was a big step and we got confidence from that. Joe McGrath took us when we were U-12 and we did a lot of work up along. It’s a bit special for us. It’s the same with Clonara. There’s a good group of them. They grew up playing together and we’re the same,” Podge said.
He has been on a bit of a personal journey as well. “It’s funny how it works out. Back in February last year (2012) I got sick. I was on the (county) football panel at the time and I couldn’t get back into it then when I came back. I got a chance then to come into the hurling and I was lucky enough to get my place. It worked out since,” he smiled, perhaps ever so slightly under-playing what had just happened.