Clare boss Collins: There aren't many good coaches around
Colm Collins jokes that he must be a very difficult man to get on with.
Into his fourth year as Clare football manager, Collins is also on to his fourth different coach in that time. The former All-Ireland U-21 winning manager with Galway, Alan Flynn, is the latest recruit, replacing Dublin-based Mick Bohan who, in turn, had taken over from Ephie Fitzgerald, now with the Cork ladies team. Before that Paudie Kissane had linked up with Collins in 2013.
It prompts an observation from Collins as to the number of high-quality Gaelic games coaches around at inter-county level.
"It's ironic in a way that our two big games in the country and you could number the amount of really good coaches - there aren't that many in my opinion," Collins said. "It's the old story of the teacher who writes all the maths books and he can't impart the knowledge to the kids in a class situation. It's much the same thing. There are people who are blessed with knowledge of the game but then there is man-management, having a relationship with the people you coach and being able to impart what they have in your head. It's a gift that not many people have.
"But Alan (Flynn) is excellent. We've been blessed with this team because we've had some really good coaches."
Progress has manifested steadily with Clare during Collins' reign. Last year they took a big leap on two fronts, winning promotion to Division 2 of the league and reaching an All-Ireland quarter-final where they lost to Kerry.
So far this season it's been about consolidation. The graph of progress has flattened out but that doesn't mean they haven't stopped moving in the right direction. Beating Cork in a regular league match stood out in a campaign that brought them closer to the trap door than it should have.
"While it's nice in a sense that, we haven't beaten Cork often, it's still a league game in March," he pointed out.
"The real business starts now. We must build on what happens, build on the good things. On the day Cork will probably say they didn't play very well. We wouldn't be very happy with our first half display either. It was a good thing because Roscommon are the only Division 1 team that we have beaten. It was good for the players to see that they can compete with these kind of players.
"Our best football display came the day we played Kildare. We played really well and did all the things that the coach would have asked to be done, even though we lost. A lot of the displays in the league were in fits and starts. The consistency that you must get at the higher level - that was missing."
Preserving Division 2 status, on reflection, softened the initial feeling of disappointment at losing so heavily to Meath in their final league game. It took quite a bit out of them.
"When we got a bit of time to draw breath and sit down, it was good to survive. It was tainted a bit on the last day. After the game people were very down about how we played but I think that when we got a bit of time to talk and to think we were still pretty happy to be in Division 2."
Collins appreciates the popularity of hurling in the county but believes Clare are still experiencing a bounce from the 2013 All-Ireland success.
"Let's not mess around, Clare are one of the top hurling counties and they have an All-Ireland title under their belt in 2013. I've always said about that title, I think it was a benefit to football. The players knew each other and they were training together and they realise that there isn't a whole lot more to do to get to a good level."
Collins feels Clare didn't do themselves justice against Kerry in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final and would like his team to address that if they reached the same stage again later this summer. But with Limerick on the horizon this weekend they face a team he acknowledges knows them better than any other.