Tomás Ó Sé: Other counties can learn from Collins' Clare template
From time to time since I stopped playing with Kerry my opinion has been canvassed by various managers or members of a different inter-county management team about how they might go about improving their own set-up, based on my recent experiences.
Naturally, such queries would stem from counties in the middle to lower tiers looking for broad insight into how they could nudge themselves up the ladder a little.
What made Kerry tick, how did they do this, how did they do that? And I'd speak about the competitive and unique club structure that provides every player with an opportunity to play in the senior county championship, irrespective of his own club's status, a structure which I feel continuously provides a better player. I'd also focus on the skills-based approach of Kerry coaches with underage players and, obviously, the tradition.
But the more I see of Colm Collins and what he's doing with this Clare team, the temptation next time will be to say, 'It's over there you should be looking, not here.'
How relevant is it to pick the brains of an old Kerry soldier in the context of what these teams are trying to achieve? Or to shine a light on Dublin?
Because my sense of it is that Clare are now the obvious template, in purely relative terms for maximising resources, the example for many of the rest to follow. And that's down to what Collins is doing.
Reading the reports of their win over Laois two weeks ago, I was struck by his view that this team can go as far as they want to go.
Recent history and tradition might trick Mayo into believing they dodged a bullet by not being above in Ballybofey or over in Navan instead this evening.
But they'll know all about it by the time they get out of Ennis this evening. Collins has built something really impressive over the last four years, underlining the value of having the right man in charge who is organised and does things professionally. My question is: how can so many other counties not mirror what they have done?
With buy-in from the players they have been able to set goals and their improvement has been incremental, punctuated by a bit of silverware.
From Division 4 to Division 3 and on into Division 2 where they retained that status this year, the gains made have been consolidated. The graph has risen steadily rather than sharply and the fluctuations have been few and far between.
The main currency for so many counties has become league improvement and Collins has used that wisely to trade up and acquire better championship bonds too.
He's extracted every last drop out of them and it has taken them to places they might not have believed possible a few years back.
How many counties that we might consider of equal or even superior status have not been able to match that step?
No doubt, Clare would have beaten Cork in last Sunday's Munster final.
They've reached into Kerry in the recent past to lure both Páidí and Micko into one last spin on the managerial merry-go-round but I'd say the players weren't overly impressed by that. In Collins, they have one of their own with no big history, no big ego who has gelled them far better than any big name could have. He hasn't been afraid to share the load either and has been able to sell the vision to bring some quality coaches on board with him over the four years.
Remember, he took on this job when Clare were still in the throes of All-Ireland hurling success and that, you would have thought, might have sucked more life out of football in the county.
But Collins managed to turn a potential negative into a positive and has repeatedly referenced the bounce the footballers got from the hurling success.
And that's what I like about them. They don't cry the poor mouth, they don't play the victim.
You don't hear wailing about hurling or resources or structures. You don't see puzzled grimaces about what they're supposed to do to compete with Kerry off the same starting grid in the province each year. They get on with it. And they profit from it.
Collins, I feel, sets that tone. There is no obvious metric for this but I'd have him as one of the top five or six managers in the country.
His achievements have come without the footprint of underage success that's there with the likes of Tipperary. With Tipperary a breakthrough has been half-expected. Clare haven't had that backdrop.
There's always been strength in Clare football. When An Ghaeltacht were going strong we went up to Limerick to play St Senan's Kilkee in a Munster final and they brought war with them. I was left with a right old concussion afterwards after a collision with one of the Russells. We won by a couple of points but when we returned to Cooraclare a couple of years later, they beat us.
Football has been traditionally been concentrated in the west of the county and, I suppose, I could identify with the similarities that exist with west Kerry. There's a certain madness attached to them that I've always admired.
I must have played Clare six or seven times in championship games and each time the focus was to lay into them early in the first half because you didn't want to be going down the stretch with them after that. They were hard and uncompromising but now Collins has brought a more modern touch.
Of course, nothing can be achieved without a certain quality of players and in Gary Brennan and David Tubridy, two players I played for Munster regularly with, they have two of the finest.
But it strikes me that the Clare dressing-room is an exhilarating place to be these days as they keep striving for new targets.
That said, I don't see them beating a Mayo team that will still take a bit of beating in this championship yet, irrespective of recent struggles. But I see Clare competing and competing hard.
The danger for Clare is that, after a four-year cycle, Collins might feel the time is right for him to step away but he has built something here that could possibly unravel if that happens.
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On another note, I'd like to wish one of Kerry's greatest supporters, London-based Dan Tim O'Sullivan, a speedy recovery after a recent accident and express the hope that he will soon be back following the green and gold. Despite being based overseas, Dan Tim continues to sponsor his home club in Foilmore and is never found wanting when it comes to backing Kerry.