Collins continues family tradition on big stage
Everywhere Nathan Collins looked in his family's house during his childhood brought him reminders of how big of an opportunity these U-17 European Championship finals are.
He has just turned 16 but his 6' 4" frame will mark him out as a lot older today when he slots into the centre-back berth for Ireland's group opener against Serbia in Kostrena (3.30, Irish time).
Football folk in Ireland have already noticed the similarities which provide a clue to his heritage. Solid in the tackle like his father David and comfortable on the ball in the same vein as his late grandfather, Transport's 1950 FAI Cup-winning skipper Mick, this latest member of the dynasty is a fusion of the family traits. He's aware that baby-steps rather than the giant leaps he perfects on the pitch are the ideal recipe to charting a career in the game.
A cross-channel move to Stoke City is looming but, pointedly, he references Kenny Dalglish's shock resignation in 1991 to be replaced by Graeme Souness as reason for perspective. That change put paid to his dad's prospects of a first-team breakthrough at Liverpool.
By then, David had captained Ireland at both the European Youth Championships and World Cup, the same stage graced by his uncle Eamonn in 1985 under Liam Tuohy.
Emulating those feats is in the sights of Nathan, should he help Ireland secure a top-five finish at the 16-nation tournament. The work starts today yet, with two of the four nations in the group progressing to the quarter-finals, the path is visible.
"My dad and Eamonn both captained Ireland at the Youth World Cup and I'd love to play at that stage too," admits the gentle giant, still playing under his father's guidance at Cherry Orchard until his summer departure to the Potters. "I've seen all the pictures and watched the videos of Ireland at previous tournaments. My dad got to mark Luis Figo at the Youth World Cup."
Ireland's run in qualification of six straight victories has been mentioned by opposition managers in the group, including Germany and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as evidence to be wary of Colin O'Brien's side. Compromising that unblemished record, even for a draw, is not in their mindset. "We won't go out and play for a draw today. Victory is the only thing on our mind," affirmed Collins.
Those minds were sharpened from far back as October when Martin O'Neill addressed the group. And the Ireland manager didn't legislate for the interrogation he received. "We've a few boys in our group who are well able to ask some questions and they did to Martin," O'Brien revealed.
Ireland (Probable v Serbia) - B Maher (St Pat's Ath); L O'Connor (Man Utd), J Doherty (Sheffield Utd), N Collins (Stoke), K Ledwidge (St Kevin's); A Bolger (Shamrock R), L Nolan (St Pat's Ath); G Kilkenny (Bournemouth); R Roache (Blackpool), A Idah (Corinthian Boys); A Connolly (Brighton).
Ireland U17 v Serbia U17, Live, Eurosport, 3.30