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Colm Collins’ Clare are an example for others to follow

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Clare manager Colm Collins. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Clare manager Colm Collins. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Clare manager Colm Collins. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

It was Steven Poacher, the coach from Down, who best captured the essence of Colm Collins on Saturday night.

Clare had – finally – beaten Meath in Ennis to earn their place in the last 12 of this year’s All-Ireland SFC thus writing another improbable twist into the story of Collins’ remarkable tenure, now nine years long and still pulling off his own loaves and fishes trick.

To recap.

In that time, Collins has taken them from Division 4 to Division 3 to Division 2, where, remarkably, they have stayed since 2016.

Many have passed them out and others have fallen away. But Clare’s almost stoic presence in the league’s second rung, arguably more than anything they have done in the championship, suggests a group extracting the maximum output from their potential.

Between league and championship, last Saturday was Collins’ 82nd match as manager and, in that time, Clare have played every team in Ireland bar Dublin, Monaghan and Tyrone.

This is the third occasion in those nine years that Clare have been one of the last 12 teams in the championship and this coming Saturday against Roscommon in Croke Park, they’ll seek to make the quarter-finals for the second time.

Ever understated, Collins was relaying his joy at getting one over Meath after a long string of recent losses and, in his own quiet way, urged his team to push further now and turn a good season into a great one.

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“Colm Collins is not complaining about disparities in the province, or crying about lack of size, finance, dual county etc,” Tweeted Poacher, whose recent work has brought him to Roscommon and Carlow, “he has his own house in order, maximising all his resources & doing a fantastic job, like Billy Lee in Limerick. Few more counties should take note!”

All the talk in Ennis on Saturday night was that we might, in the event of a Clare loss, be witnessing the final game of Collins’ tenure.

That just 2,860 people turned up to witness it, many of them from Meath, was illustrative of what Collins has had to work with.

The flags that hung in the streets around Cusack Park did so mostly in anticipation of the following day’s Munster hurling final.

Even for Colm Collins, energy is a finite resource.

After nine years of thoughtful custodianship of the Clare footballers, during which he has achieved a remarkable level of consistency, maybe the timing would have been right on Saturday night had they gone three years without a championship win.

Or at least, maybe that’s how he might have justified it.

Back in January, Collins mused on this very subject.

The past two years, with their many and varied complications, hadn’t been long ones for Clare. Two championship games, two defeats. No back door.

“The question of knowing when to go is important,” he said prior to starting this ninth year in charge.

“It’s obviously been a difficult couple of years with Covid but I love what I do and the lads are fine with me and I’ve got a great group of people around me. Honestly, I feel as enthusiastic about it as I did on day one.

“As long as we can keep an upward trend, and as long as we’re not disimproving anything, then I’m delighted to keep at it. I’ve never taken anything more than a one-year term so that you can weigh all those things up after each season and, hopefully, make the right decision.”

Not that his continued presence as Clare manager needed further vindication, but a win over Meath removed all doubt.

Clare won having squandered a seven-point lead, having lost all calibration in front of goal for the first 20 minutes of the second half, and having met an inspired Harry Hogan in the Meath goal.

This was no ambush.

Equally, there was a sense on Saturday night that thin and all as the air gets now with each step higher into championship altitude, yesterday’s draw would hold no great trepidation for Clare.

Not that they were in bonus territory and so, could write off a loss. But that they had little to fear in any of the beaten provincial finalists.

As it happened, they drew Roscommon, a team with whom they have already drawn with back in February, on a day in Hyde Park when the weather was the most influential factor and both teams played better against a strong wind.

It was after that game, on February 20, that Collins was asked about Clare’s consistent ability to hold their own in such a cut-throat division.

“We’re very happy with the bunch of players we have,” he replied simply. “We think we’re a match for anybody.”

Four months on and Collins continues to prove himself right.


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