Opinion

My GAA Life – Down’s Neil Collins

Name

Neil Collins

Which teams did you represent?

At underage level I played with Ballymartin, then when the family moved I transferred to Drumaness and then when I moved again I played for Carryduff. I also managed a few games for Down and Ulster.

What is your current involvement with the GAA?

I have been coaching with Down squads for the past 13 years and with some local clubs as well, mainly with the goalkeepers. I have decided to take a rest this year after my involvement with the Down seniors ended to work on the golf handicap.

What was your greatest moment in the GAA?

I suppose as a young lad you dream of winning the All-Ireland and I was lucky enough to do that twice. Also, as a young goalkeeper you dream of making a telling save in a final so saving a penalty near the end of the ‘94 final was also a dream come true.

What was the most surprising moment in your career?

Charlie Nelligan, the great Kerry goalkeeper, was one of my all-time heroes and after we played them in the 1991 All Ireland semi-final he asked me to swap jerseys. It was his last game for Kerry and I still have the jersey as a treasured possession.

Who was the best player you ever played with?
I was lucky to play with some great players for Down and Ulster, Mickey Linden, James McCartan, Anthony Tohill, Peter Canavan, however I am totally biased on this one and would say my club and county teammate Greg Blaney. He was a great ball winner and could see a pass that others couldn’t. He was the fulcrum our two All-Ireland wins were built on.

What was the best score you ever saw in a game you were involved in?

In the match between Derry and ourselves in 1994, which was just a superb game of football, James Mc- Cartan got a ball on our right wing and under immense pressure kept possession, took a load of steps and scored a sublime point.

Which manager made the biggest impact on you and why?

Pete McGrath had a huge influence me as I was on county teams he was in charge of from minor level. Pete is a perfectionist and demands that from his players. He developed a culture in my time in Down that created very strong bonds between the players with no cliques in the dressing room. Pat O’Hare (RIP), who was my PE teacher at school, also had a huge influence which also helped deliver an All-Ireland in 1994 when Pete brought
him in to help train the team.

What was the best piece of advice you ever received about playing?

It actually came from a soccer goalkeeping coach I worked with back when I was very young who made me promise to practice kicking a ball against a wall and catching it for five hours every week. He was on to something as it seems to have been a forerunner to the 10,000 hours concept.

What was the best thing about playing in your era?

I think there was a bigger social side to the game back then. We would have gone for a few beers after the games, and a lot of times with boys we were playing against. This has helped developed life-long friendships across the country. Also given some of the eejits I played with, thank God there was no social media back then.

What was the worst thing about playing your era?

Back in the day the facilities were not anywhere the standard they are now. I changed in some very dodgy changing rooms (including the back of an old 40ft bread delivery trailer), and played on even dodgier pitches.

When did you know it was time to call it quits?

My ankles were giving up on me and I was taking injections to play. Younger players for club and county were starting to come through and I was in my mid 30s so it was an easy decision to make to step away because of that. However despite going on to coach up to senior county level nothing ever replaces the thrill of playing.

What interesting or funny story may readers not know about you or one of your former teammates?

With Down what went on tour stays on tour (mainly due to legal reasons!) However the old Celtic and Polish ’keeper Artur Boruc was known as the ‘Holy Goalie’ because of his religious beliefs but this was stolen from the ex Armagh Goalkeeper Benny Tierney who was also known as this – not for his religious beliefs but because of the
size of his arse.