Roller-coaster year with club and county renews Collins' love of game
There was a different feeling in Galway throughout last winter as Liam MacCarthy made its return to the west for the first time in 29 years. A sense of relief and satisfaction that the job had been completed - the famine over.
Watching from the outside wasn't easy for David Collins, however, as the Tribesmen climbed the Hogan Stand steps in his first season of inter-county retirement having dedicated 13 seasons to the cause.
Of course he was delighted, he had soldiered in maroon with the majority of these history-makers and came agonisingly close to reaching the pinnacle, but part of him found it hard to digest.
"It was emotional more than anything, I had invested so much into it. It wasn't a case where I committed a bit of my life to it. I had committed solely to it," Collins says.
The former Galway skipper was on duty with RTÉ Radio 1 on that September day and it took his mind off any disappointment at not being involved - it made him appreciate his role and the part that many others had played in that breakthrough.
"It gave me a job, it gave me something to focus on. If I hadn't done it I would probably have been tearing my hair out in the stand somewhere. If I was totally honest I struggled to go to games at the start," he explains.
"I got into it, 'this is not too bad'. I enjoyed watching the boys playing because they were friends really for a long time. I said, I'd rather they win it the year I left than two or three years down the road when I wouldn't know the team so much.
"I nearly felt part of it, and that was the best bit about it. You really felt you had given something to it."
Little did he realise he was going to play a central part in another fairytale a few months later with Liam Mellows, the Galway city side who were third in the roll of honour for SHC titles but 47 years without a crown.
It was only when Louis Mulqueen - involved as coach/selector with Clare's three most recent All-Ireland wins - was ratified as senior boss that Collins decided, "right, if you're committing, I'll commit to Mellows fully" and his inter-county days were over.
A season of club hurling has made him fall in love with the game again, although it did take him time to adapt to a more relaxed environment.
"I got an education from one of the younger fellas out there one day. We were training, and I was kind of trying to get it to a new level. I wanted to go back to nearly county level," GPA president Collins says.
"The man goes, 'Collins will you calm down, relax, we are up here to enjoy ourselves and enjoy the craic like.' I was kind of going, 'right, this is a new thing for me. This is not the same level I was used to'.
"But club hurlers love it, they just enjoy the game that they play and it's not all about the pressures on top of it, the outside sideshow if it, so that was a real lesson."
Against all odds, Mulqueen led Liam Mellows to a county final win over Gort with Collins as joint-captain (along with Aonghus Callanan) getting the silverware he richly deserved.
"For our older fellas. There is a guy there, Charlie Quinn, who does the lotto for us, I think he generates about 100 grand year for us. For him, to see him at the end of the match just crying, you are kind of going, 'right, this is what it's all about'," he says with a smile.
"It really was a fantastic finish to the year. A fantastic finish to 2017 for me when I looked at Galway winning the All-Ireland and just being involved in a county title."
The celebrations are a thing of the past with reigning All-Ireland champions Cuala - managed by a familiar face in Mattie Kenny - waiting for them in today's AIB All-Ireland club semi-final. Their progress under Kenny, has not surprised him though.
Having worked under Kenny when he was coach during part of Anthony Cunningham's reign as Galway manager, Collins was surprised Kenny was overlooked for the Dublin senior hurling job, with Pat Gilroy preferred.
"I think that would nearly drive him (Kenny) on that bit more to prove people wrong you know and go, 'right, this is what ye missed out on' and this is what he's doing, he's going for back-to-back All-Irelands and I think that that's him," he says.
As for the Dalkey side, Collins appreciates the formidable challenge that awaits Liam Mellows in Thurles (4.0) today but they've been given little or no chance at various stages throughout this remarkable run, so that won't bother them one bit.
"You can look back at all their games and you're kind of going, 'Oh, Christ, they run at you, they're physical, they can actually all score, their game-plan is Con O'Callaghan and you've (Colm) Cronin, (Sean) Moran and all these hurlers that would all make your inter-county team.
"We're going to be up against it, we're under no illusions about that but we're not going to roll over either. We've been underdogs all year so we're there, there on merit."
And with his 34th birthday falling on St Patrick's Day, the dream is still alive for Collins and Liam Mellows.
- Liam Mellows v Cuala, All-Ireland SHC club semi-final, Live, TG4, 4.0