Collins takes small steps to recovery after two-year injury nightmare
It lasted less than three minutes but it felt good, so good in fact that David Collins felt like he was making his debut all over again.
When the 25-year-old former Galway captain, Young Hurler of the Year in 2005, stepped out on to the field in the 69th minute of the league win over Limerick on Sunday, he was ending a near two-and-a-half-year absence from inter-county hurling.
With all the attention on Justin McCarthy and Limerick in Kilmallock, Collins was able to slip quietly back into the action and resume at a level he thought at times he would never see again. He has endured a nightmare with an ankle injury sustained in the October 2007 inter-pro hurling final at Croke Park as Munster beat Connacht.
So highly thought of was he that the then manager, Ger Loughnane, named him team captain at just 23.
After two operations to correct a severe lateral inversion of his ankle and 28 months on the sidelines -- eight of which were spent on crutches -- Collins is determined to make up for lost ground.
"The two operations took it out of me. I spent probably eight of the 16 months of rehab on crutches. I had to learn how to walk again, learn about balance, and that was tough," he said.
"I had a good physio, we worked well together, probably three or four days a week. It was all really hard stuff, a lot of really annoying stuff -- you often got to the point where you just wanted to give in.
"But you had to keep looking at the bigger picture -- winning an All-Ireland -- and that's what I'm here for. I'm not going to accept anything else before I finish up."
He made it back with his club Liam Mellows towards the end of last year but spin-off injuries have continuously set him back.
"You try to have your attitude in good nick. There are times you get setbacks, but it's things like my hamstrings, my groin, my knees -- they're going to go because I'm imbalanced at the moment.
"Sprinting out there in a match is different to sprinting in a gym, or straight sprinting in a field.
"It's like climbing a mountain: when you're on the near-vertical slope, you think, 'right, I'm going to get to the top of this, I have to get up, I'm just going to keep driving until I get there'."
Collins, a software developer with HP, used his time away from hurling to set up a website, www.mocks.ie, aimed at helping students with exams.
However, the desire to recover and get going again on the hurling field has been overwhelming.
"I want it, I have to come back to it. This is a serious year for Galway. John (McIntyre) has put in two good years, last year and this year, really developing the team."