We've no-one but ourselves to blame for last year - Collins
Published 27/05/2015 | 02:30
It's Championship week and Dublin and Croke Park are on the horizon. The passing of time has made Galway's David Collins appreciate the build-up all the more.
He's 31 now but can recall a time when he thought all his summers would be long and the road littered with silverware.
In his first season in 2004, he was taken for 1-3 early in the League final by Waterford's Dan Shanahan but Galway dug it out to win.
The following season, he won the Young Hurler of the Year award, and by the time Galway set out on their next campaign, Ger Loughnane had made him team captain at just 23.
It was all coming easy for him and, as far as he was concerned, it was going to be that way forever.
Then in 2007 came what might have been the beginning of the end. In the interprovincial final in Croke Park that year, he picked up an ankle injury that required two operations and eight months on crutches.
It was early 2010 before he lined out for Galway again.
"Since the two and a half years I was off it, I was more aggressive towards (training) than I was ever before that," the Liam Mellows man recalled at the launch of Liberty Insurance's Drive Safer campaign.
"I think when I was playing before I got injured, I was more in a comfort zone. I just thought everything was rosy and it was grand and we'd win All-Irelands and that I'd be here for a long time.
"Next thing, bang it's gone. It makes you realise that life goes on when you get injured."
Much has changed since he first walked into a Galway dressing-room. The big names that pulled him through that harrowing experience with Shanahan are gone. Hurling itself and the players it is producing have changed too.
"It's just a generational thing. The young lads now are 19, 20, coming in fit, lean, and aggressive, and everything in their life is hurling. Whereas back in the day, there was a lot more relaxed atmosphere, a lot less pressure, and I think players enjoyed it more," said Collins.
"When I look back, the likes of Derek Hardiman, Kevin Broderick, Eugene Cloonan, Damien Hayes, David Forde - it's really changed, the whole regime, the whole lifestyle has changed.
"It's gone so professional now that it's a different ball game. Personally, the whole enjoyment thing is different now, to what it was back then. There's so much more pressure now. But I thoroughly enjoy it."
Pressure is something that hasn't always sat well with Galway of late.
Last year, they were six points up against Tipperary with less than 20 minutes to play. In that period, Tipp oversaw a 15-point swing to run out handsome winners.
The year before, Clare beat them in an All-Ireland quarter-final on their way to the ultimate prize.
"It rings some bells, where are we going wrong, why we can't carry out over the line and finish out the games. And that's what it's about. Consistency is Galway's problem," Collins said.
"We went to address that this year. Against Kilkenny and Clare we won at home, then took the foot off the gas again.
"Okay the team changed slightly through injury with young lads coming in, but consistency is key in Galway's game. And it's about which Galway team shows up.
"I think we're in the right place, training hard and everything seems to be going well."
Those back-door exits taught Galway a valuable lesson about taking the direct route through the Championship as often as possible. When they stunned Kilkenny in the 2012 Leinster final, they went all the way to the decider.
"Look at us last year, we ended up playing Tipp, in a preliminary quarter-final, in Thurles, with 30,000 people there and (you're thinking) 'Jeez, this is not what it should be like'," he said.
"But it was our own fault. We made a balls of it. It will have to change this year. The direct route is the way you want to go. You don't want to be going and facing Clare, in Cusack Park."
Sunday sees Galway start their seventh Leinster campaign, which Collins believes has been a great help to their development. It is also their fifth Championship meeting with Dublin - it's a fixture they have never managed to win.
"As a team, we haven't performed to the best of our ability," said Collins.
"We haven't been consistent. We haven't really won a Championship game other than Laois in the last two years, so that's a stat in itself. We need to drive on and beat the big teams."