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'Demonisation' of county set-ups and 'ridiculous' decisions - Clare boss Collins slams inter-county critics

Collins insists there is no elite juggernaut in Banner football which operates on a 'shoestring' budget

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Veteran: Clare football manager Colm Collins is in his seventh season at the helm. Photo: Sportsfile

Veteran: Clare football manager Colm Collins is in his seventh season at the helm. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Veteran: Clare football manager Colm Collins is in his seventh season at the helm. Photo: Sportsfile

Colm Collins has heard enough. Enough of inter-county set-ups being demonised. Enough of every county manager being tarred with the same brush.

Contrary to the perception of an inter-county juggernaut, the Clare football boss believes that most squads are operating on a "shoestring".

And according to Collins, the official edict blocking inter-county training until September 14, even for those players already eliminated from their club championships, is "ridiculous".

This coming weekend will mark exactly a year since Clare's 2019 'back-door' adventure ended in agonising defeat to Meath, with the Super 8s within tantalising reach.

So far, Collins' seventh year at the Banner coalface has been far less hectic and far more surreal.

It is now four months since their last league outing, a crucial victory in Cavan that left them precariously perched just above the Division 2 drop zone.

Fast-forward to mid-October, from when Clare could face four huge matches on consecutive weekends: league games against Fermanagh and Westmeath, then a Munster quarter-final against Tipperary, and a potential semi-final against Waterford or Limerick.

Problem

"A few months ago we'd have taken it, no problem whatsoever," says Collins. But he has a problem with the September 14 training return date set by Croke Park - and an even bigger issue with the increasingly negative narrative surrounding the county game.

"Some of the demonisation of the inter-county set-ups has been very disappointing. I wish they'd call out what they're talking about here.

"They're talking in mad generalisations about the inter-county juggernaut," he claims.

"It's like someone getting on a soap box and just roaring their head off. Why can't they come out and be specific?

"What are they talking about? Do they resent paying the players' expenses? What's their problem?

"I'd love to be in a position to question these people that are mouthing their heads off and say, 'Speak facts, don't mind these generalisations, tell us what you're talking about here?' Because I don't see it. I see the vast majority of counties putting together very competitive set-ups on a shoestring."

But what of all those anecdotal accounts of unnamed counties allegedly back training for several weeks, even without insurance cover?

"Yeah, there's a lot of talk about that," he accepts. "I suppose it's a bit like rumours in general . . . I would never repeat anything like that unless I actually saw it myself, because there's plenty of people out there that would be spreading these things for mischievous reasons.

"So again, if you're a journalist and this is going on . . . it's not that difficult to find out, but at least verify it and then call it out. Don't be tarring everybody with the same brush.

"I know for certain it's not happening in Clare, but that's all I can tell you about."

As for Croke Park's stance that counties cannot resume collective training until September 14, Collins believes it is far too regimented.

Instead, he advocates the earlier release of county players whose clubs have been eliminated from championship - to ensure "they're not made sit on their asses for four weeks".

"I would be all for leaving the clubs have their time and have their day in the sun here," he stresses. "But if a club is out of the championship, surely to God the county should be allowed train? If county players are in a county final, I wouldn't be looking to see them, absolutely not."

His fears are fuelled by a belief that some clubs train better and smarter than others.

"It's not a level playing pitch," he says. "I'm not going to get the 30-odd players to me in the same shape . . . because some clubs are extremely professional, other clubs are doing very little."

While the "ideal scenario" would allow Collins to monitor his squad maybe once a week during the club window, he accepts this is not a runner in this "exceptional" time.

"This is what has been given to us to do and I'm quite prepared to work with it. Except that, you know, some of it has been ridiculous," he maintains. "Closing the pitches completely has been an absolutely ridiculous decision. The whole contradiction where a county player could go to the local public park and train, and he couldn't go into his own pitch and train on his own - or with one other person . . . that was a real cop-out.

"And this is another one. By all means, (let) the clubs have access to the players fully and I'm fully behind that. But if a player is out of competition with the club, he should immediately be training with his county."

Collins has no gripe with the return of straight knockout and surmises that not only Clare but Tipperary, Limerick and Waterford will "all fancy their chances" of reaching a Munster final, with Kerry and Cork squaring off on the other side of the draw. All the while, though, he insists his "only concentration" is on the first league game against Fermanagh.

All of the above, of course, is predicated on an ongoing suppression of Covid-19.

"It's absolutely the important thing that everybody keeps being careful and that we don't get any spikes," he says.

"I mean, you can see what's happening in the States and it's gone crazy out there, so it's important that we keep this under control so that we can keep getting back to the old normal."

Irish Independent